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School Program Draws Students to Art

July 10, 2002

Fourteen-year-old Ryan Johnson has the perfect setup through the Summer in the Arts program. After four hours of journalism, creative writing and computer graphics classes at Harper Park Middle School, he still has "half a day to hang out."

"You get a lot out of it. It's not just learning," said Johnson, a rising ninth grader at Loudoun County High School in Leesburg. "It gives a new light on journalism. It's a lot more work than it seems ... but it's definitely worth it in the end."

Johnson is one of 250 students taking morning workshop classes in music, art, drama and writing through the Summer in the Arts Program, which is offered for Loudoun County students grades 5-11. This year, the classes are held June 24 to July 12 in either a four-hour track or in shorter tracks with two to three classes. The three-class track and a fifth grade section, which is held at Tolbert Elementary School next door, are new to the program.

"If they're interested in the arts, this is the place for them," said Kerri Quinlan-Zhou, program coordinator for Summer in the Arts since February 2001.

QUINLAN-ZHOU advocated the program for part of the 2000-01 school year and during the entire school year in 2001-02, helping double the enrollment from the 105 students participating in the summer 2001 program. The program this year adds high school level classes and advanced classes in drama, drawing, sculpture and show choir. Last year, Summer in the Arts classes were taught at one level and combined beginner and advanced students.

"Sometimes I call it 'kids college,'" Quinlan-Zhou said. "It's neat for them to decide what they want to do."

Students can take anything from sculpture to painting, ceramics, culinary arts, dance, guitar and photography. They can specialize in the subjects they want to study, taking, for example, watercolor or multimedia painting instead of a general art class. The district hired 20 teachers experienced with the subjects to teach the material at a more in-depth level, working with an average class size of 15 students. The classes range from four students per teacher to 25 students.

"The teachers that are here are artists themselves. These are professionals," Quinlan-Zhou said. "Our classes are more specific, so we like to get people who have a specialty area."

Loudoun art teacher Eric Scott said the students in his four-hour multi-media class can finish a painting in a day or two. "They can get so much done," he said. "They get to guide their artwork. It's not like the scripted art project. ... It's guided, but there's independence and open-endedness to it. It's not graded. They want to be here, and they want to paint."

WALKING through the school is like walking down a street in Paris, Quinlan-Zhou said. "There is a different feeling in each class," she said. "I like walking into the art classes because I like the atmosphere and the vibes. They're creating art every second. No one is bored."

Students in the beginning sculpture class can be found sitting on the floor working on a black painted cardboard road for the city they are creating. The buildings are on students desks and on a large table, where they are scattered about.

"The problem was trying to find a spot for every single building. ... That's why we made an uptown and a downtown," said Bryan Brady, a rising seventh grader at Eagle Ridge Middle School. "You can let your imagination fly free with the buildings here."

The students taking journalism are creating a newspaper called "SIA Today."

"It allows me to participate in the subject I'm learning," said Steve Gottschling, a rising 10th grader at Stone Bridge High School. "You can exercise your skills and learn new skills you don't get a chance to learn in the summer otherwise."

The students will showcase what they learned during the Arts Explosion on July 12. The Summer in the Arts program has been offered since 1980.

"The best words for this program are creative, dynamic, enrichment and fun, and those are the things I like best about it," Quinlan-Zhou said.

Karri Robinson, 12, agreed.

"The key word is fun in Summer in the Arts," said the rising seventh grader at Simpson Middle School.

"Here you're [learning] because you want to," Gottschling said.