AKRON, OH—Towpath Trail High School is bringing art back into the classroom with a hands-on Visual Arts class; a unique offering in a school like Towpath Trail whose priority is to graduate students who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to earn a high school diploma.
In its inaugural year—the 2014–2015 school year— the art program was offered only in the afternoons during second session. It quickly became clear that the students had an interest in, and a need for art. This year, for the 2015–2016 school year, Towpath expanded the art program to be offered year-round and during both sessions, opening the class to any student who is interested.
The students who take art are given an opportunity to learn techniques and hone their skills through a rigorous, yet fun, curriculum designed by Mr. John Whitman, the class’s instructor. Mr Whitman believes that art is a key component to providing a well-rounded school experience for our students.
“Art helps students to problem solve, think outside of the box, and find solutions to problems. These are skills that can be transferred to all aspects of their lives,” says Whitman.
Davien Williams, a junior at Towpath Trail, said, “I’m glad I have the chance to better myself as an artist because it helps me to be better in other parts of my life, too.”
Williams continues, “art class challenges me to use my full potential. Art is everywhere. It’s in math and English and a lot of careers.”
The students’ art is also featured prominently around the school—most notable is a 8’ x 5’ painted mural that is displayed in the school’s main hallway. Once a semester, the students in the art class design and produce a mural that depicts important people, places and events of Akron. It gives the students an opportunity to take ownership of their school and take pride in their work.
Last year, the students decided the mural should depict some of the things and people Akron is famous for. It featured the Goodyear blimp, “rubber city,” Derby Downs, the space shuttle, and, of course, LeBron James. They chose to use a quote from his apology letter because they felt they could relate to the idea that success is earned—life isn’t always easy, but hard work can move you toward success.
This year’s mural is a work in progress since the school year has just started. The mural will showcase the faces of Towpath Trail with a collection of high contrast images of our students—much like the black and white image of the boy in the pictures at the top of the page. Schools like Towpath Trail often have a reputation for being a place for “bad kids” since they accept students that did not follow the traditional path to complete high school. However, this is not the case.
“Our kids are painfully aware of the public’s perception of them,” says Mrs. Christina Fraser, director at Towpath Trail, “but our kids are people. They have families, challenges, joys, and unique personalities that can’t be defined by a single label. The collection of faces will showcase the people behind Towpath [Trail] and how uniquely wonderful they are.”
These reasons alone have been enough for Towpath Trail to see the value in offering an authentic art experience, but Whitman adds just one simple fact that is clear to anyone who sees one of Towpath Trail’s students blossom in the program—“art is just good for the soul.”
Learn more about Towpath Trail High School and its other course offerings by visiting our website.