In high schools across the United States, the push for standardized testing has crowded out many arts courses. State and federal budget cuts to the arts have also taken their toll, so great a toll that, this past May, a White House report worried that a lack of creative thinkers could compromise America’s economic future. Maybe the researchers should have made a stop at Verona High School, where 11 of the 151 members of the Class of 2011 will be going to art school or pursuing creative majors in the fall.
Lindsay Bongo, Jasmin Peňa and Tom Smith are going to the prestigious Savannah College of Art & Design. Ana Komar is headed to the Maryland Institute College of Art. Richie Williamson will be in graphics at William Paterson University; Brandon Collis will do the same at Johnson & Wales University. Ryan Denora, who did the senior class video and worked on cartooning projects at VHS, will be doing animation at Pratt Institute. Juliet Carvajal will focus on the arts at the College of William & Mary. Carly Maestas, who won first place in Caldwell College’s Teen Arts Jam this past March, will be in art at Lycoming College, while Mariya Guzner will be at Montclair State University and Cristiano Queiroz Jr. will be at LIM College, an institution that specializes in fashion merchandising.
Last summer, after the Class of 2010 graduated, MyVeronaNJ.com wrote about what was ahead for several members of that class. We profiled a student headed to nursing school, a group going to hospitality school, and two young women who wanted international educations, one in the U.S. and one abroad. This year, we’ll be looking at students on career tracks and college plans that involve art, music, business and more. Bookmark the tag “Class of 2011” to read them all.
For some of the art students, their skills were shaped within the Verona public school system–though they often didn’t see it at first. At H.B. Whitehorne Middle School, Bongo got interested in greeting cards and, by her own count, made hundreds of them. But it never occurred to her that it would lead anywhere. It wasn’t until she took computer graphics classes at VHS (using equipment obtained through a grant by the Verona Foundation for Educational Excellence) that college and career possibilities came into view. “Junior year graphics class is when I found out that this is what I wanted to do,” she says. “Mrs. Sherman [VHS art teacher Terry Sherman] helped me to look at things differently. I owe my portfolio all to her.”
Peňa will be going to SCAD for fashion design, a skill she learned largely outside Verona because our schools no longer offer sewing. In seventh and eighth grades, she took clothing design and sewing classes at Bass Arts Studio in Montclair. “I made my 8th grade graduation dress,” she notes. Later, Peňa took summer classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and worked on fashion merchandising in DECA, VHS’s business skills club, winning awards in both her sophomore and junior years for her work. “That was cool to put on my resume,” she adds.
In SCAD, Bongo, Peňa and Smith will find a school that draws art students from all over the U.S., and all around the world. In addition to graphic design and fashion, SCAD offers majors in film, digital media, fine arts and building arts, such as architecture, interior and urban design and historic preservation. The college, which also has campuses in Atlanta, Hong Kong and Lacoste, France, has involved students in the rehabilitation of several old Savannah buildings into classrooms and dorms. The school works to incorporate the latest in design technology into its teaching, so that neither Bongo nor Peňa are worried about being well prepared for a career when they graduate. One other possible draw: Savannah prides itself on being America’s most haunted city.
For Bongo, it is a city full of promise. “Growing up, I never got the best grades in English or Spanish,” she says. “I never wanted to learn about that stuff. Now, I get to learn the things I want to learn.”