From Filmmaking to Ceramics, 8th graders experience the arts


Neeva Patel and Madison Kim

As the first semester comes to a close, 8th graders enrolled in the school’s art program are replacing their electives with another of their choosing.

Students choose from a list of 18 arts electives, including Filmmaking, Ceramics, Darkroom Photography, Steel Drums, Yoga, and Public Speaking. In 6th and 7th grade, the registrar places students into two art courses per trimester. However, in 8th grade, students are able to choose the electives they take each semester.

In the spring of 7th grade, students are sent a form that asks them to rank the different art electives, Head of the Middle Division (MD) Javaid Khan said. Although Khan and Scheduling Coordinator Tom Petras try to grant students their first choices, there are sometimes scheduling conflicts, Khan said.

“Some students were placed into electives lower down on their list due to scheduling conflicts, enrollment challenges, and the fact that there might not be a teacher or enough students to fill up the class,” Khan said.

For instance, Berk Yilmaz (8) is currently enrolled in the school’s yoga and theatre electives, taught by Angela Patmon and Ben Posner, respectively. Although neither of these classes were his top choices, Yilmaz enjoys them more than he expected, he said. “The most memorable moment was probably the chair game we had played during yoga,” Yilmaz said. “It was very intense and chaotic but very fun and kept us on our toes.”

Sloane Easton (8), who is taking “Theater 8” which was one of her last choices, wishes that the school would honor their promise to enroll a student in one of their top choices, she said. 

Other students, such as Bea Monti (8), are enrolled in their first choice, Ceramics, taught by Natasha Rubirosa. Currently, Monti is learning the concept of slip and scoring, used to attach clay pieces to each other, she said. “We have also been learning how to texture our ceramics when dealing with proportions in order to produce a stable product.” 

Ceramics was Monti’s first choice because she enjoys hands-on activities and expressing her capabilities through sculpting, she said. “It brightens up my day to be able to relax and have fun while still learning new ceramics techniques.”

Visual Arts Teacher Mirrie Choi has been teaching “Sculpture 8” for two years, she said. Choi finds freedom in the fact that she can customize the curriculum to suit what she thinks the students and herself will find most exciting, she said. “Each year, I end up doing something a bit different with each class, finding inspiration in artists as well as the students and their ideas.”  

Choi designed her elective to start out with a more structured project, where all of the students would learn the same process and have different end results, she said. “However, for the second project, students were able to experiment with different mediums and materials which gave them more freedom to make their work and process unique.”

Choi enjoys teaching sculpture because there are endless possibilities of the materials you can use, and each has its own properties that make it both fun and challenging to work with, she said. “I hope students take away the sense that there are always creative approaches to any challenge, you just need to experiment to find what works for you and make it your own,” she said.

These special electives are offered to 8th graders to allow them to try out a variety of options during their final year in the MD, Khan said. “Students may come to find they have a passion for an art they would have never tried before.”

Will Matays (8) is currently enrolled in his first choice elective — “Filmmaking,” taught by Film and Photography teacher Jordan Rathus, he said. Matays chose the course because his friends signed up for it, he said. “So far, the course has been a great learning experience since I am able to dive into topics I have never worked in before, such as the behind-the-scenes process of working a camera.”

Matays enjoys being enrolled in a course with his friends because they are all able to create a film together, he said. Along with working with his peers, Matays enjoys learning how to take videos from different angles. “Filmmaking has a lot of different parts to it since you have to use your creativity while working in front of and behind the camera,” he said. In the last week of the semester, Matays looks forward to learning more film camera tricks that he can incorporate into his videos.

Easton finds the 8th grade electives to be a different experience from the previous curricula, she said. “When you get to choose your class, you spend more time doing something you actually want to do.”

Music Teacher Alan Bates finds that students in his 8th grade “Steel Drums” elective are more excited to learn than those placed into his classes by the standard curricula because they have chosen to take his class specifically, he said. 

Teachers may choose the electives they teach. They are also permitted to work with their department chair to create a new course if they choose to do so, Khan said. 

Bates has taught “Steel Drums” — otherwise known as Steelband — ever since he came to the school in 2009, he said. Steel Drums is a hands-on course in which students learn playing techniques for the instrument, musical terms, and how to understand rhythms, Bates said.

Bates designed the 8th grade “Steel Drums” elective for students who played the steel drums in sixth or seventh grade, since the course builds on the basic skills they learned in previous years, he said. 

The group of eighth-graders Bates taught this semester had a clear desire to play, he said. “This group of kids is amazingly talented and whenever we get together as a band they sound great,” Bates said. 

In the future, Monti is looking forward to learning more about how to improve her ceramics skills, and is considering taking the year-long course in the Upper Division, she said. 

Bates hopes that the students in his elective consider taking the year-long UD Steelband course, he said. “I hope students have a great experience of playing in a band, and that it will inspire a life-long love and appreciation of music.”

As students move into high school or college, they will need to make choices about the courses they want to take, Khan said. “Gaining some exposure to this type of elective choice is an extremely valuable experience, which is why we chose to start the process in the MD.”