Hotchkiss High School art teacher Jamie Roeber doesn't care much for "cookie-cutter" assignments, where the entire class is given a project and a deadline.
"I don't believe in that," said Roeber, now in her eighth year of teaching, and her fifth year at HHS.
"I believe in creativity and problem-solving. I give them a problem, they have to come up with a solution. And that's a lot harder to do than when you're told what to do."
In other words, she said, rather than ask what is 5+5 — which has only one answer — she asks, "How do you equal 10? "That has an infinite number of solutions ...It's a lot harder, because they have to think more."
Their most recent project involves using five different techniques with graphite to establish their knowledge of a pencil. A bit limiting, she admits, "because it sets the medium for them." Most assignments allow them to choose the medium, be it watercolor, oils or mosaics.
That approach has resulted in projects that are anything but cookie-cutter. Her students' works, from pencil drawings to intricate sculptures, cover every spare inch of Roeber's art room. "I run a classroom that is completely their classroom," said Roeber. "I am more of a facilitator. I teach the right tool for the right job."
Roeber came to the area in 2008 after teaching art at Rifle High School for three years. But it didn't have that community feel she was looking for. She participated in a Spanish-speaking Enhanced Language Learning program with Beth Skelton, who suggested she check out the Hotchkiss area. It was good advice — she found that community structure she was looking for at HHS.
Roeber, then Jamie Hudson, interviewed and was hired on the spot. Through sports, she met local cattle rancher, Chase Roeber, and married into the ranching life.
Roeber is not content to keep her students' work within the school walls. In May 2009, she and her students went public and presented their work at The Creamery Arts Center. "I thought it was the best way to display student artwork," said Roeber. "If we only kept our artwork within our own walls, the parents don't get to see it, the community doesn't get to see it."
Prior to their first show, most students had never been to a gallery opening. "At first, they had no clue that galleries were public places, and it's hard to imagine," said Roeber. "They didn't know what it was, they didn't know what was involved in it: the music, the laughter, the fun." Now her students plan the entire show. It's also their final. Each student must exhibit one piece and attend the opening. The only way a student can fail in her class is if they do nothing.
Once the public saw what the students could do, people began contacting her with ideas for public projects.
Last year Roeber was awarded a $300 grant from the Arch Coal Foundation's Innovative Teaching Grants program for a "Community Optical Boost" program. She purchased supplies necessary to paint murals, but rather than buy paint brushes, she bought air brush kits so her students could learn new techniques and concepts. This spring she received requests to paint two murals on Bridge Street. The first was an updating of the Hotchkiss Bulldog mascot on the facade of the Hotchkiss Public Works building.
Roeber opened the project up to a small group of students, but they weren't interested in airbrushing, she said. So she presented the problem to all of her students — how to get the mural painted — and senior Wes Hardin came up with a design. A group of about eight students bought into the idea and they finished the mural in one day.
"It brightens up Hotchkiss and it shows the pride we have," said Roeber.
Subway held a design contest for a mural on the restaurant's east wall. HHS student Chris Allen submitted the winning design, which features a Bulldog crashing through a brick wall with a Subway sandwich clenched in his teeth. Subway had the wall professionally prepped and the final art work sealed to protect it from the elements. Once the prep work was done, the project took 12 hours to complete.
"That excitement, that adrenaline from their pride is the best thing an art teacher can ever see," said Roeber. "It's success."
To challenge her students to make the connection between art and community, each year Roeber takes students on day-long field trips to galleries from Aspen to Grand Junction. They also visit public art displays, such as the many sculptures on Grand Junction's Main Street or scattered throughout the streets of Carbondale, and discuss how art affects the community.
Roeber approaches her own work with the same problem-solving mind set, a technique she learned during a 4-year term on the board of the Colorado Art Education Association. "I worked with some of the best art teachers in the state," and learned from 35-year veterans about how they taught, said Roeber. "No kid's going to be the exact same, so why run the exact same project?"
Roeber said that while earning her bachelor's degree, "I did everything for art education. I learned everything across the board about various mediums." Her professors urged her to pick one concentration and focus on it. "I pretty much told them, as an art teacher, that's not my goal." The more she knew, the more prepared she would be to help her students.
For her master's program she needed to focus on one medium. Despite being the wife of cattle rancher Chase Roeber, Roeber selected chicken wire. Chicken wire is not a typical art medium, "So it fit me perfectly, because I'm not typical," said Roeber. It's also the antithesis of cattle ranching. With chicken wire, a little baling twine, some horseshoes and barbed wire, Roeber created a life-size saddle. Her piece won first place in the Advanced Sculpture category at the 2011 Black Canyon Art Exhibit, sponsored by the Hotchkiss Fine Arts Association.
She won a blue ribbon, but more importantly, the piece wasn't selected by a judge, but rather other artists in the community. That, she said, was powerful.
Roeber now has nine sculptures made from chicken wire, which she has incorporated into her teaching. A group of five students told her they "wanted to do something different." They couldn't afford a bronze sculpture, "But we could do chicken wire. It's a cheap, free medium, it's recycled, do what you want to do with it. And they jumped on it."
The result was Rufus, a larger-than-life school mascot made from chicken wire. Last spring the students (Brendon Beck, Alex Smith, Wesley Hardin, Jaden Simpson and James LeValley) put Rufus on a flatbed and hauled him to the Aspen Art Center, where the sculpture garnered first place and $600 for the art program.
Rufus now guards the entrance to the school, although his final destiny remains undetermined.
Roeber said her sense of public pride "... comes from the amazing students we have, the respect that our students show, the eagerness to participate in sports, arts, everything."
Getting their work out into the public was an opportunity that had to be taken. And the entire community benefits. "A wall like at Subway is less likely, if it has art on it, to be vandalized," she said.
Roeber said her students are considering at least five more requests for murals. The problem will be in finding the time to complete them — a problem her students are used to solving.
And then there is the pride the students take in their work. After completing the Subway mural, Roeber said her students were jumping up and down with excitement, despite having worked 12 hours. "That excitement, that adrenaline from their pride is the best thing an art teacher can ever see.
It's success."blog comments powered by Disqus