I spent most of Thursday at Bishop Gibbons High School, a proud and bustling Catholic School in Schenectady, New York, where most of the refugee kids from Bishon Maginn have joined a diverse high school with all kinds of students, rich and poor, white and black, brown and yellow.
Sue Silverstein is the school’s new art and community service director. She has transformed the basement art room into an eight-part creativity center full of choices and ideas for students who want to learn how to make their things during class time and beyond.
Sue is one of the most creative people I’ve ever met, spreading that joyous infection throughout her classes.
The students are immensely proud of what they are making, and that, I think, is the point.
I love Sue, she is a friend of mine, and I know her to be a human angel who loves her students and worries about their day and night.
Here, she has been allowed to flower and experiment with her sense of empowerment, encouragement, and the creative tools that help children to think, grow and learn.
It is a fantastic thing she is doing; the students and other teachers love it.
I’ve met several other equally dedicated staffers. I am working with Tricia White, the head of the English Department, to mentor students who want personal help with their writing and to give some talks and classes next semester.
(Amanda, making art with beads, marbles, and ceramics.)
Like Sue, Trish is an amazingly dedicated teacher; she’s put me together with my first student to mentor, Killian McGee, who is writing a blood-curdling horror story set in a bowling alley.
We are having a blast working together; he has plenty of drive and imagination.
I hope to put his piece on my blog, and he will then be an officially published author. At first, I made him nervous, but he is figuring me out and know I’m a sap.
I’m pushing him to start a blog, and he wants to write in the horror genre like his literary hero, Stephen King. We’re having a blast.
But yesterday belonged to Sue and her art program, a radical effort to make student art personal, practical, affordable, interactive, and intensely creative.
The Catholic Church has taken a well-deserved beating lately, but I am impressed with the support they give their teachers and the commitment they show to the welfare of the students, at least the ones I’ve seen.
I wouldn’t be there otherwise, and neither would Maria.
Any student in the school can use their new tools (thank you, Army Of Good, for making this happen) and come after school closes to put in the extra effort.
Sue has opened up her very radical experiment in teaching and inspiring art to everyone in the school, her classes or not. Her classes are immensely popular; supplies are flying out of there.
She is running out of discarded jewelry materials (please send some – Sue Silverstein, Bishop Gibbons High School, 2600 Albany Street, Schenectady, N.Y., 12304) but is grateful for the flood of no longer used metals, jewelry, fabric, tools, silverware, broken ceramics, canvas, sheets, wood, and even toy parts she is using to help the students make things like jewelry, beds for animal shelters, ceramic designs, beautiful Colonial style floor cloths, wind chimes and baskets made out of sheets and canvases.
One person’s musty attic and basement are another’s creative tools.
Students can come and work on their creations at any time.
Also, I’m allowed to take pictures of the young artists now; I’m glad I’ll be able to connect the faces with the art.
They deserve it.
The art students made their presence known by making a series of gorgeous floor cloths out of prints and stamps to decorate the welcome school statue in the front of the building.
I can’t think of a better way for them to announce themselves and make their presence felt.
One of Sue’s first and instantly popular projects has been making dog and cat beds for local animal shelters, so the animals won’t have to sleep on cold concrete floors.
All the kids want to make one, and all the covers are thrilled to get them. Sue wants there are to benefit the community, and the students are looking for ways to bring art into the homes of people who can’t afford them.
Fran from New Jersey sent Sue this lovely wind chime which Sue loves very much. She’s going to hang it up in the art room. She says she loves connecting with the people from the Army Of Good who send her things; she says they write some of the most beautiful letters she ever receives.
She says she is in touch with almost everyone who sends her things.
The Army of Good is…well, good.
Fran also sent this beautiful letter to Sue, who wrote back to her, the two have become friends.
I especially love the last paragraph, the P.S., which reads, “I am a Peace Messenger for the United Nations and a member of the Army Of Good.”
It made me tear up a bit. Sue also. Thanks, Fran, you are always there.
Lorenzo wanted me to see one of the baskets he is weaving from some of the sheets sent to Sue.
Maria spent most of the morning cleaning, re-setting, fixing, and oiling the six Singer machines we bought for the students at Bishop Maginn and that Sue brought to Bishop Gibbons.
Maria has been teaching sewing in the art room. Sue says that sewing has become so popular that the machines are constantly in use and need maintenance.
Yesterday, Maria took one of the best machines to a sewing machine repair place, and the owner donated two used Singers in good shape that their owners no longer want or need. We’ll get the machine back shortly.
We’ll bring them to Bishop Gibbons when we return, which will be soon.
Hser Nay is drawing on one of the sewing machines. Maria says she is one of the best sewers in the class. You might remember Hser Nay; we helped with her tuition.
She is delighted with her new school.
Cia is using ceramic bits and scraps that people have been sending her. She asked me several times to remind people that none of this work could have been done or could be done without the support of the people sending her lost and abandoned fabrics, metals, jewelry (they need old jewelry), sheets, and other discarded tools.
(Hser Nay and Folasade working on their ceramic art.)
Everything these students are making comes from recycled objects people can’t use anymore or throw away.
If you can and wish, you can send your lost and found objects to Sue Silverstein, Bishop Maginn High School, 2600 Albany Street, Schenectady, N.Y., 12304.
And thank you, thank you, thank you.
You are helping to bring joy, confidence, community, and creativity to children who love what they are learning to do and always are eager to take it home and show it to their families.
Sue is a hero of mine and a close friend. She has the heart of an angel and the generosity of a saint, and she works day and night, often exhausted, to do right by the children who are fortunate enough to come her way.
It is a joy and honor to know her and to see the extraordinary, even revolutionary, work coming out of her art rooms. She could not do it without you.
Sue’s following projects on the list include wall hangings and reliefs and totem poles made out of squared wood. She’s already storing the wood in the basement and sawing it herself.