Cortland School encourages fine arts
Every student at St. Mary’s School in Cortland takes art and music classes and a number of students take advantage of instrumental music lessons and dance class. The combination of creative and performing arts with related historical studies provides St. Mary’s children with a balanced outlook on the cultural aspects of society as developed in the U.S. and in the world at large.
Cultural studies programming at St. Mary’s is regarded by SMS teachers and
administrators as part of the “St. Mary’s Experience,” a school-wide approach to framing educational opportunities. The school has close to 300 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
“As a Catholic elementary school, St. Mary’s is committed to the establishment of moral and ethical principles in students,” said Sister Harriet Hamilton OSF, principal. “We regard cultural arts programming as being among the central aspects for the ongoing development of each individual. The combination of classroom work and student participation in various art-related activities such as public concerts, recitals and exhibitions, gives students a sense of appreciation of their cultural heritage.”
Weekly art instruction at St. Mary’s is organized according to grade levels following New York State and national standards for the arts. Subject matter deals with fundamental concepts in early years. Kindergarten students learn primary and secondary colors while being introduced to various art topics. Ceramics, pastels and watercolors are specific areas in which kindergarten children work.
By second grade, art classes involve more difficult tasks such as watercolor theory and techniques. Further expansion of design theory is a subject for fourth graders and fifth graders study more art history and undertake related research projects.
By the time students reach sixth grade they are employing more color theory,
writing reports on the works of noted artists, and are immersed in design principles and developing art projects.
The entire student body is involved in the Student Art Show every spring. The
2008 exhibition will be the 23rd annual event and is scheduled June 7. It is one of the most popular events in the school year, attracting several hundred visitors.
Judith Johnson has been teaching art at St. Mary’s for 24 years. She said that preparation for the art show begins early in the year when a central theme for the exhibit is selected. Linda Kline, a volunteer teacher, conducts art classes for first and second graders and has been associated with SMS since 1980. She plays a major role in instructing students as they prepare for the spring exhibit.
“We decide on a theme a year in advance and the students spend fall and spring semesters preparing materials that will be featured in the exhibit,” Johnson explained. “We discuss with students the subjects to be used in the show. Linda and I provide instructional help with design and implementation assistance for each art piece. The students begin creating the final art works using their individual talents.”
Themes in recent years have been “America the Beautiful,” which had an emphasis on red, white and blue colors; the Bible’s “Old Testament” which featured art related Biblical stories, and “Children’s Rhymes and Stories.” The art show theme this year is “Down On the Farm.”
With all students submiting three or four pieces in the annual show, Johnson estimates that 1,200 entries are exhibited. “The number of pieces that need to be arranged for the show requires a large number of parent volunteers to help set up and take down the displays,” Johnson noted. “We are very grateful for the assistance provided by the Parents Guild and others every spring.”
Student interest in art beyond the classroom sparked the development four years ago of an Art Service Club. Working directly with Johnson, student members of the club undertake individual projects that involve a variety of art techniques. “In addition, the club serves the school, the art department and St. Mary’s Church by producing sale items for the annual art show, printed covers for various event programs and stage needs for SMS musical
Early efforts by the students produced a series of Christmas cards which were made available to the public. The club maintains a membership of approximately 20 students each year.
Besides the exceptional art program at St. Mary’s, the school also offers a music program.
“Applicants must have a strong desire for playing music and demonstrate a willingness to apply the commitment and discipline necessary to develop as an instrumental player,” said Sister Harriet. A total of 56 Bertini Scholarships have been awarded since the program was started.
Music students in grades three to six have the opportunity to sign up for instrumental lessons through the Band Bus program in Syracuse. The organization provides instrumental music teachers to Catholic schools statewide.
Patti Heath is the instrumental instructor at St. Mary’s and conducts lessons for students specializing in playing the flute, clarinet, alto saxophone and trombone. Lessons in percussion instruments also are offered.
“Any student interested in learning about individual instruments is welcome to join the program,” said Heath. “All music students are invited to play with the school band and no auditions are required. We’re interested in getting as many students as possible to play and enjoy music.”
The band has close to 40 members. The band plays in two scheduled concerts at
school and plays at community events as well. Special performances recently were at the NYSSMA Solo Festival and at the All-County Elementary School competition. Ten students competed in individual instrument evaluations.
The SMS Dance Club has 35 student members from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. Children in pre-k and kindergarten and grades 1-3 are instructed in tap dancing. Students in grades four through sixth learn tap, ballet and jazz dancing.
“All students are encouraged to develop new dance steps as they gain experience,” said Kathleen Ann Hoyt, dance instructor. “We learn to have a greater appreciation of music as we listen to the dance beats and work on timing and coordination. The students gain an understanding of the amount of time and effort it takes to put a dance routine together and then present it for the entertainment of others. Our annual dance recital this year will be on Tuesday evening May 6.”