Art Renaissance Puts Spotlight on Award-Winning Artists
By Britney Ramkeesoon & Shakilur Rahman, Junior Writers
Thanks to new classes, new teachers, and talented and award-winning students, the Art Program here at Hillcrest High School is in the beginning stages of an Art Renaissance.
It all began two years ago when Assistant Principal of Art and Music Mr. Follyga, Media, Arts and Music Director Mr. Panepinto, former AMAM Director and current Director of Health Sciences Ms. Zotti-Meltzer planned to develop a stronger Art program in Hillcrest by redesigning the existing Humanities SLC. “We all shared a vision to make The Academy of Media, Arts, and Music a program that was an alternative to the other Art and Music programs for students in Queens,” said Mr. Follyga.
One goal for the new SLC was to create a four-year track in Art that would culminate in Advanced Placement classes in Studio Art while allowing students the opportunity to create art portfolios that can let them attend colleges that specialize in art. This attempt to create specialized classes for artistic students is what caused Mr. Panepinto and Ms. Zotti-Meltzer to recreate their Humanities program. “Compared to 5 years ago, students left this SLC with a foundation of writing and knowledge, but with no specific skills gained. Thanks to our new four-year tracks, they can take a variety of classes in different creative and writing specific classes. Our Art Program went from just Basic Drawing to including AP Art History, Foundations of Art, Photography and Photoshop, Studio Art, and AP Studio Art,” said current Director Mr. Panepinto. He believes that this program will start to attract students from around Queens interested in Art. “Students should be able to graduate from this program, having the same experience as those who have graduated from LaGuardia,” said Mr. Follyga.
Teachers are at the center of any strong program, and Art Program has 3 great teachers. The newest Art teacher, Ms.Varoski, who started working here last year “has helped with the vision of where the Art Department should be and collaborates well with the other Art teachers,” said Mr. Follyga. Ms. Varoski, who worked as a fashion designer and teacher for the last decade, instantly clicked with the vision that everyone shared for improving the Art Program. “I love it here. I changed schools to work with other art teachers and was given lots of opportunities to take ideas and run with it,” Ms. Varoski said.
The first major victory for the new Art Program occurred in the Spring when AMAM Junior Teyanah Cleve became a finalist for the 2014 New York City High School Directory Cover Competition. Thanks to a huge push by Principal Morrison and Mr. Panepinto, Teyanah won the Online Popular Vote for her cover. Her cover was ultimately not chosen to be the cover of the High School Directory, but was used instead for the Middle School Directory.
Ms. Varoski has made a great impact on the Art track, as she has given four Media, Arts and Music sophomores the chance to be a part of an amazing workshop through an organization called Global Kids that uses social justice as a platform. The four students, Gurpinder Singh, Onesimo Marcellino, Mokesh Harillal and Jamel Thompson, once a week after school learn how to hack video games and even design their own games.
This isn’t the only student involvement of art outside of school that Ms. Varoski has encouraged. Tasnuba Showmi won a paid internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tasnuba signed up for the Art track as a junior and has since taken Foundations of Art, Studio Art, AP Art History and participated in a summer program at York College. “She gets to go to the most beautiful place in the city, and gets paid for it too.”
Ms. Varoski has a great love and appreciation for art, she loves what she does and says “art is an amazing way to view the world when you view the world when you travel and examine history. It’s a nice lens to view the world. 4 years helps the students analyze and make art, which helps with 21st century thinking skills.” Mr. Follyga, Mr. Panepinto and Ms. Varoski expect Arts students entering the program will successfully complete AP Studio Art, AP Art History and pass the Art Regents to earn a Chancellor’s Diploma for the Arts.
Another new thing development is Ms. Beckhardt’s Photoshop class. “I’ve been wanting to do this class since I started working here,” and when she finally got the opportunity she was overjoyed. As of now, there’s only one period of this class, but as Mr. Follyga mentioned, it’s just a test run. Hopefully by next year, there will be a second year of this class. His goals for this class are that “students should be skilled enough to use Photoshop and they should be able to apply the skills they learned in their professional lives, later on in life.”
Ms. Beckhardt’s main goal is to have the Photoshop class actually listed as an official elective class offered to the whole building next year. Ms. Beckhardt and Mr. Follyga both speak that now is the Digital Age and “with kids taking selfies and going on Instagram and all of that, it’s nice for students to be able to use modern materials to create art in a productive and interesting way.” Ms. Beckhardt said, “We should expect great work from the students who get to explore the program and make art.”
The Art track is doing great in Hillcrest High School. The students in the Art Programs need to keep up the good work. The amount of activities and opportunities in our Art Department is definitely enough to give other schools a run for their money. Who knows, maybe one day students will apply for our Art Program, as a first choice, instead of a better known art schools in the future.
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