Tekoa Dixon, a seventh-grader at Nikiski Middle-High School, works on a project during an art club session recently. The art program has been restarted after being absent from the school for several years.
Photo by Will Morrow
The hallways at Nikiski Middle-High School always have been decorated in the Bulldogs’ silver and black. This year, the school colors have some competition from a pallet of bright reds, yellows and oranges, and deep greens and blues.
“It’s made a tremendous difference,” principal John O’Brien said of the pride exhibited by students as their artwork is put on display around the school.
“There’s a tremendous difference in the atmosphere. It’s not just kids. We have parents come in, and I always get comments about how nice it is to see some of our own students’ art displayed.”
Oversized masks currently are on display around the school, filling a display case and hanging from the balcony over the school commons.
“We were going for a tribal look,” art teacher Shana Kolipano said of the masks. “We constructed armatures, then did paper mache on them. ... As soon as projects get done, I try to get them on display.”
It’s been several years since the Nikiski hallways have served as an art gallery, and Kolipano, a first-year teacher, has been tasked with bringing about the school’s renaissance.
Kolipano, who came to Nikiski from Tennessee, began the school year figuring out what she had to work with.
“The first thing was just organizing supplies, cleaning out the art room and getting ready for students. I think the best part is that my students are really excited because they haven’t had art in a while,” Kolipano said.
Kolipano has two high school-level introduction to art classes this year, and a middle-school art class, with the goal of providing an art class for students who haven’t had the opportunity to take one. She said she’s hoping to be able to add some advanced art classes next year depending on school funding.
“It is a high priority of mine to be able to keep art and Shana here. I think we’ve just touched the surface of what she can offer,” O’Brien said.
Kolipano also has started an after-school art club. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, students were rounding up faculty judges for a schoolwide art contest.
“I decided to start up an art club to give students something to do if they weren’t involved in something else,” Kolipano said.
A paper mache mask is on display above the main stairway at Nikiski Middle-High School.
Photo by Will Morrow
O’Brien said the connections Kolipano has made with students has been invaluable in getting another group of students engaged in what’s happening within their school.
“Shana has made connections across all subgroups here,” O’Brien said. A lot of the kids in her art club had nothing to draw them in beyond the school day. ... If it weren’t for Shana and the art club, a lot of these kids would be at risk for not being engaged in what’s going on here at school. Art was a huge void which she has come in and filled.”
The club is student-led, and Kolipano is there to help as needed. She usually has about a dozen middle- and high-school students find a space to work on a project of their choice each week.
“It’s a lot better than the last art class we had, and we didn’t have an art club then,” said Danica Quinn, a Nikiski senior.
Quinn said she likes to write fantasy stories and do her own illustrations. She’s also excited to be taking part in a group project in which the art club is making a mosaic comprised of masks made by each member.
O’Brien said the art club’s projects have relevance to students outside the art room. For example, the art club collaborated with the wood shop to create place settings for a school banquet earlier this year.
Marianna Tschida, a junior, said she hadn’t taken art classes before, but giving it a try was expanding the way she approaches things. She helped to create the oversized masks and is looking forward to seeing them used in an upcoming production by the school’s dance troupe.
“I’m glad we have an art club. I’m glad we can give to other people through the art,” Tschida said.
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ###
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