The School Community:
Thompson Valley High School is a community based school. They have made changes this school year to their schedule to try and help students make more connections with teachers and build upon these relationships. One of the biggest changes in their schedule they made was going from a block schedule to a schedule that has students being in all eight classes Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. Wednesday and Thursday are still block days so that students go to odd classes on Wednesdays and even classes on Thursdays. This change was made so that teachers were able to see their students more often. This gives the teachers more opportunity to make connections with students. Another change they made was adding an advisory period on Wednesdays and Thursdays. This was also put in place to create an opportunity for students to make a connection with a teacher. It is important for students to make connections with teachers because there have been studies that say students are more successful if they have made at least one connection with an adult at their school. Thompson Valley also offers a wide range of special programs that can help students be successful in school like; gifted and talented, 23 AP classes, college credit classes, and dual Futures Centers. All these programs are important for Thompson Valley to have because it creates the possibility for students to challenge themselves academically. All of these changes Thompson Valley have made revolve around their mission statement which is; Building for a new generation, the skills to achieve each student’s academic/ career goals, the skills to contribute to society, and understanding of cultural diversity, self-pride and self-confidence, and a belief that learning is a life-long endeavor. Thompson Valley also has a lot of parent support. During the year of 2003-04, 7,590 hours were logged by 222 parent volunteers. With this amount of parent involvement it is easy to see that Thompson Valley is very community based school. Thompson Valley has built a strong community for their students to help lead their students to success.
Students and Classroom
The students in Jen Martin’s classroom are a mixture of four Photo III students, eight AP Photo students, and one AP Fashion Design student. There are eight males and five females- all but one are Caucasian. All of the students in the class are seniors and most of them are very hard working. There are a select few in the class however who struggle to turn things in on time and require a bit of extra support. While not all of these students will continue with art as a career after high school, all of them will continue with it as a hobby. Students in the AP sections are currently working on their breadth assignment of their portfolio which is focused on creating a broad range of pieces to show AP portfolio reviewers their skill with a range of topics; this includes series of six, human form, high contrast found still life, darkroom manipulations, and digital manipulations. The next semester they will be working on a concentration for the entirety of the semester which will involve students exploring one topic in depth. The Photo III students are given select assignments to help them explore the formal quality of photography as an art form. The class is mainly student driven with the occasional higher level demonstrations as the need arises. The teacher in the classroom, Jen Martin, is focused more on being a facilitator in their learning and challenging the students to problem solve- there is very little lecture. At this level most of the individual skills have been fostered and it becomes a challenge of expanding what you want your art to communicate with the world.
There is a clear space for conversation in the classroom and a clear space for work time. The front of the class is set up for lectures and group discussions while the back of the room houses a work table and some supplies. The room also houses a darkroom adjacent to the classroom as well as a digital lab across the hall. There is also a large mural behind the chairs that is sometimes the home to whatever Martin wants to paint there but most recently it is home to a group exploration of wheat paste that the entire class is working on together.
Topic and Rationale
Students in this class have at least undergone two semesters of photography and most of them have been through three semesters and in addition have explored with photography out of class. They know how to use their camera, adjust exposures, make prints, use Photoshop and the darkroom, famous photographers, and the basics if not more of exploring their ideas. Based on the level of knowledge of the students in this class there is a large focus on refining their skills and learning how to transfer their ideas to their own art. As current students of photography at the higher level we are learning techniques that, if shared with the students, can expand their understanding of the medium as an art form. As they end their high school career and move on it is also crucial for us to help them figure out why it is they make art and what they want to communicate to people who view their art- this is both for AP and Photo III. This class will focus a lot on demonstration and allowing them to practice. Critiques will also be crucial both in process and when finished to get feedback from their teachers and classmates. Students are self driven at this stage and need guiding along the way to help narrow their goal.