December 1, 2010 in City

New school’s students connect with sculptor

By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

Artist Harold Balazs talks about art with Brady Towner, 16, during an art class at Havermale High School, where Balazs spent time with students in the Community School program.
(Full-size photo)

Nationally known sculptor Harold Balazs encouraged students at a new Spokane school Tuesday with talk of expression, going against conformity and being curious.

“Expression is therapy,” Balazs, known for dozens of public sculptures throughout the Northwest, told the group of students and teachers.

For the teenagers who have chosen to attend the Community School and the people who operate it, the messages the Mead-based artist delivered were compatible with their more individualized thinking.

The Community School, a new “project-based” school within Havermale High School, is yet another option for Spokane Public Schools students who feel unengaged in a mainstream environment and might be in danger of dropping out. The students choose to take part in the high school program that uses “real-life” learning to teach math, science, reading and writing.

In the project involving Balazs, for example, students are creating sculptures that require them to do algebraic equations or other calculations in addition to the art.

The approach offers a more individualized learning environment and flexible schedule, and connects students with local businesses and people for hands-on experiences.

The idea is to “own their learning,” said Cindy McMahon, the school’s principal. Currently, 125 students are enrolled in the school that started in September. There’s room for up to 200.

The school is new to Spokane, but others like it have existed for more than two decades.

“It’s a whole child approach,” McMahon said. The student is “known deeply, and we want you to grow in every way.”

Student Katrina Brummer said she likes “the attitude of the people. … They want to be here.”

Students spend two-thirds of the six-hour day working on their projects – they usually have more than one under way. The remaining third is split between seminar – working with or talking to people from the community – and wellness, which provides “the fun, the recreation,” McMahon said.

The students have the same graduation requirements as other high schools.

Balazs, 82, told Community School students working on their art projects that “Whatever happens should happen because you want it to. If you are going to do something, do it with intention and intensity.”

After the seminar Balazs went to the art room with a few of the students to work with wood pieces as a medium, but he hesitated to be the first to create.

“As soon as I do something, you are going to think that’s the way it’s done,” Balazs said. “It’s not. It’s a way it’s done.”

Brady Towner, 16, said Balazs “makes art sound a lot funner. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. People can just throw stuff together.”

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