FINE ARTS AT A PRIVATE SCHOOL: GREEN FIELDS COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL PLACES A STRONG EMPHASIS ON ARTS EDUCATION - The Explorer: Import

FINE ARTS AT A PRIVATE SCHOOL: GREEN FIELDS COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL PLACES A STRONG EMPHASIS ON ARTS EDUCATION

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Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Stefanie Shields, a soon-to-be-senior at Green Fields Country Day School, said she had a lot of fun being a prostitute - a prostitute in Green Fields' production of the musical "Jekyll and Hyde," that is.

Shields worked with several other Green Fields students to make the production a reality, a process she said was much more fun and relieving than stressful.

"I was having kind of a hard time in March, and going to (practice for the) musical every day just let me get away into a different world," she said. "It's definitely an outlet."

Shields is about to begin her second year in Green Fields' music program, headed by Becky Cardier, who is in her 16th year of teaching fourth through 12th grades at the school.

Green Fields is a private school that charges about $10,000 a year in tuition for grades six through 12 and about $8,000 for grades four and five. Next year, the school is expecting an enrollment of about 220 students.

The school has the reputation of having one of the most rigorous but best curricula in the state because of its emphasis on the arts, said Principal Rick Belding.

"The arts at this school are absolutely critical," Belding said. "It's not just a personal belief of mine, but of everyone that the arts really do bring about an evolution of children being able to express themselves."

Belding said not only do children become engaged with the arts but with other areas in school as well.

"It brings out an interest in school that's so important," Belding said. "It creates the opening up of new worlds."

Cardier said the musical gave students the opportunity to become involved in something significant as well as something that involves developing skills.

The high school students in the musical are also involved in Cardier's 30-member choir, which has a variety of performing opportunities throughout the year.

The choir gets to audition to perform in Disneyland, it goes to Flagstaff to perform in a singing festival and it also participates in the school's Madrigal Dinner, where guests are treated to songs, skits and meals based on the Renaissance period.

Cardier started the Madrigal Dinner at the beginning of her career at Green Fields because she had so much fun performing the 14th century songs while studying music at the University of Arizona.

"I just thought it was a good way to get kids enthused about doing madrigals," Cardier said.

She said the students have to pay for the trips to Disneyland and Flagstaff, or more likely their parents, but that they do little to no fund raising to cover the cost of the trips.

She added that everything else needed for the class, such as music and costumes, is paid for by the school.

Cardier also teaches a general music class for all of her fourth through eighth graders, where students learn music appreciation, how to read and play music on the guitar and piano, and study and do projects about composers.

But keeping the younger students interested, who have to take the class while high school students get to choose the fine arts class they want to take, often presents a challenge to Cardier.

"I always worry about how I keep my younger kids interested," she said. "Music requires a lot of discipline and learning new skills before they can bust out and do the things they think they should be able to do."

Cardier said she tries to give the younger students interesting but easy songs to learn to keep them from becoming frustrated.

For the older students, the challenges come from helping them to get past obstacles as the students try to expand their talent.

"They know that they practice, practice, practice and they kind of bump against the wall until they reach that next plateau and add to their skills again and again and again," she said. "So it's just a matter of learning how to pick themselves up to get to where you want to go."

For visual arts teacher Jane Buckman, the goal for her students is a little different.

Instead of having her students concentrate on the outcome of their projects, she wants them to just enjoy the process of creating them.

"My goal is really to not work toward the product but to just enjoy the process," Buckman said. "All people should have the opportunity to do art and know it's not just for professionals."

Buckman is in her 20th year of teaching art at Green Fields, where her average class size is about 12 students. A "large" class would consist of 16.

Buckman said she takes pride in her classroom - a white geodesic dome that somewhat resembles a smaller version of Disney's Epcot Center in Florida. The room was built by art students and staff in the 1970s.

Buckman said she teaches several aspects of visual art that allows students to work with several different mediums, including ceramics, watercolors, ink and basically anything that could be used to create art.

Students do not have to pay a fee for the class as most of the supplies are paid for through each student's tuition.

"We are never wanting for anything," Buckman said, but declined to give the dollar amount she has to work with every year.

The program, which has become quite reputable in the 30 plus years it has been in existence, has allowed students to showcase their work both on campus and off. Buckman said last year she had one student who won first place in the Pima Community College art show.

She has also had students accepted into such schools as Harvard, the Rhode Island School of Design and the San Francisco Art Institute, which have some of the most prestigious art programs in the country.

She added that she declined to have students participate in any national competitions because of lack of feedback for the students' work.

Buckman said the one thing she tries to keep in mind as she teaches is to allow students to maintain their individuality while expressing themselves through art.

"I really stress the individuality and I try not to push my views on the students," she said. "The students have their own ways of expressing and whatever they do, that's what art is."

It's that kind of mentality that students like Charlie Palanza, a sophomore, enjoy most about Buckman's class.

"It's really pretty open, which makes it nice," he said. "If you want to work with any medium or any subject, she lets you do that. She doesn't tell you how something should be done. She just helps you along and suggests how you can work with that subject matter."

Palanza said he probably would be doing his artwork outside of school if he didn't have the opportunity to take a class, but said the direction he gets from Buckman helps him hone his skills.

Students who can't take Buckman's class because of an already-full class schedule or for other reasons do get their chance to have their classmates see their work, however, through "Prism," the school's literary magazine published annually.

The magazine combines pieces of writing students have submitted with student artwork to create a very professional-looking magazine.

Matt Smith, the magazine's adviser and a sixth and seventh grade English teacher, said the work is mostly done by the students.

"My job is basically keeping them on track," Smith said. "Other than the business end, they pretty much do everything."

Smith said he picks an editor to work closely with him each year and also has a staff of about 15 students who help in selecting the pieces to be published and designing and laying out the magazine.

"It certainly helps them get to know a work environment instead of a classroom environment where they have to work with each other and debate their opinions with each other," Smith said. "Sometimes we get an eighth grade piece that some think is really juvenile and some think it's really great. We have a lot of debating and I try to keep the focus on the issue and not let it go outside of that. I think it's good for them in developing their interpersonal skills."

The students who get published also get something out of it, he said.

"You don't necessarily have to be the best artist or writer or get the most money, but there are opportunities to get published," he said. "I think it helps them build confidence."

"Prism" has also received some prestigious national awards.

In 2001, the magazine won the National Scholastic Press Gold Star award, one of the highest honors a school publication can receive.

Smith said he gives the staff a set of criteria to judge the submissions and knows that the staff knows enough about writing and art to make good decisions. About 30 pieces of writing and 30 pieces of art are published every year, with the "Prism" staff spending after school and weekends during the second semester preparing the publication.

For Luke Henley, a sophomore staff member, the production develops more than just a sense for working in a business-like atmosphere.

"I got to know people I had never really talked to before," he said. "I think working with people like that only helps you have better relationships with other people."

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