Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles about ways that Colorado Academy is living its mission during challenging times.
JJ Moore, Junior
In fall of 2019, Sophomore Dean Emily Perez urged JJ Moore to apply to the Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar (TASS) which would be held in the summer of 2020 at Cornell University and the University of Michigan. Students accepted into the highly selective six-week college-level seminar study topics related to Black and ethnic studies. Moore was one of 56 students chosen for the program from across the country. Here, in her own words, she describes a summer of unexpected adventure.
“When Ms. Perez suggested I apply, I never really expected I would be chosen. I heard they had 15,000 applications from students all over the world! But then I decided, ‘Why not just give it a try? The only way you fail is if you don’t even try.’ So I wrote the application essays and sat back to see what they thought about me.
“I felt incredibly lucky to be chosen and really excited, because I was headed to live on campus at Cornell, and I had never been to Ithaca. And then during spring, I started receiving emails that made it pretty clear that we were not going to be able to have TASS on campus, but we would still be able to meet on Zoom.
“My group was all students of color from around the world, and our seminar examined history “From Slavery to #Black Lives Matter.” The crazy thing is that the professors had settled on that topic a year in advance, but it couldn’t have been more timely, because of heightened awareness about racial issues around the country. The other students were very bright, articulate, and had so much conviction. For once, I was the quiet person in the room, because I felt they were at a different level from me. It was scary, but it was the best experience. Being around people who speak the same truth was wonderful.
“Finally, after three weeks, the subject of Ida B. Wells came up. I had written an essay about her, so I spoke up for the first time. I felt so courageous in that moment and was so proud of myself. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be the person who speaks all the time, but when you speak, make it a watershed moment.
“An adventure asks you to try something new, something you have never done before. Even though I couldn’t travel, the opportunity to do this program, meet new people, learn about myself, and have an experience I had never had before—that’s what made this an adventure.”
For CA artists, the COVID-19 pandemic has produced an unexpected silver lining.
“We’ve given our students more autonomy with their creative work,” says Director of Visual & Performing Arts Katy Hills. “As a result, children can go on their own artistic adventures.”
Visit a Lower School art classroom this year, and you will notice that every student has their own oversized bag filled with art supplies. The art bags serve a dual purpose. In class, students don’t share materials, minimizing personal contact. And if students need to return to fulltime remote learning, they can take their year’s work and supplies home with them. In Upper School, artists were also given their own supplies to take home.
In Lower School music classrooms, students have a similar set-up with their own buckets, filled with personal instruments that only they use. Not being able to share supplies in a group studio space is a challenge that art and music teachers have rarely, if ever, had to face. They spent their summer months on their own adventure, wrapping their brains around ways to continue educating during a pandemic and then creating individualized kits for each student.
“We saw so much joy and pride in the faces of our students when they realized that they had their own supplies,” says Hills. “We’ve witnessed a new level of independence and adventurousness in our artists and musicians, as they feel a sense of ownership and comfort in materials that are theirs.”
But what does a Theater Department do during a global pandemic when the Froelicher Theatre has been torn down to make way for the new Performing Arts Center? When your craft relies on social gathering in a building, and you cannot gather, and don’t have a building, how do you continue your craft?
What might have seemed an insurmountable hurdle served to bring out the creativity in CA’s technical theater class. Faced with the need to create a shop where they could build sets, they found an empty space in the back of the Field House. Theater and Dance Department Chair Steve Scherer tasked the advanced level technical theater students with the job of designing the important and necessary functional features of the space.
The students designed a tool bench, rolling carts that hold all their storage cabinets, and a moveable table that doubles as storage. Middle School and Upper School technical theater students used the plans to build the shop furniture together as a group, demonstrating again that uncertainty can lead to creativity.
“Sometimes the most creative people have the most limited resources,” Hills says. “This is a year that’s demanded imagination and determination from our students and teachers. Stepping up the way they have has led them on a special creative adventure.”