Special thanks to our Food & Beverage partners for making your Garden Party easy! L&M Fine Foods, Gene's Sausage Shop, Mrs. Murphy's and Sons, Lizzie J Cafe and Sazon Catering.
What is in this Party Pack? We are putting together all the things you will need to plan a great outdoor party. Items include compostable silverware and plates, napkins, candles, koozies, s'mores kit and more! You can purchase a Party Pack for 2 people or 10! Visit our website for more information! Party Packs go on sale on April 12th!
Wednesday, April 21, 4-5 p.m. for K-4
Wednesday, April 28, 4-5 p.m. for 5-8
Get ready for Waters Virtual Garden Party by joining Ms. V for a virtual art hour! Join our very own (and everyone's favorite) Ms. Vecchioni for an at home art project! We'll get you all the materials and all you have to do is join the virtual lesson and create something beautiful. Sign up here!
This week we had the pleasure of getting to know music teacher Tommy Bradford, a professional saxophonist who's been at Waters for 8 years. Super Fun Fact: His niece, Alana Sherman, is in the top 24 on American Idol right now- clearly, musical talent runs in the family. Go Alana!
WT: Teaching music remotely sounds difficult, to say the least. How has it been going?
Mr. Bradford: It's been an interesting, challenging situation, but the kids make it fun. Whether we're in school or online, I just like interacting with them and teaching them about music!
We're sure you're counting down the days until you can be in the new music room—have you seen it?
Yes, it's amazing! I'm very excited about it. I look forward to being able to make music with our students once things get better.
Did you always want to be a musician?
I was interested in sports (basketball, baseball & football) when I was younger, and I absolutely love motorsports: Motorcycles & F1. But I always wanted to play music. My high school and elementary school music teachers, Mr. Dockett, Mr Clark and Mr. Savage, were all professional musicians in their own right. Seeing them teach and perform really opened up my eyes to being able to do the same.
So is it safe to say when you're not teaching, you're playing the saxophone?
Pretty much! I'm not in a specific band at this point in my career but I've probably freelanced with more than 200 bands locally and abroad. I was fortunate enough to share the stage with Buddy Guy, and I toured with the Isley Bros for two years.
That's amazing! We have to imagine you've seen a ton of shows over the years—any favorites?
Hmmmm....This is tough. I've been a part of some amazing concerts and I've seen some great ones too: U2, Sting, Prince, The Roots. But I think the Branford Marsalis Quartet is the most consistently phenomenal. They're a jazz band that perform with the energy of a rock band! Smaller groups are awesome, too. I was in Amsterdam years ago walking down the street and heard some Jazz playing. I opened the door to this walk-up apartment building and there was a jazz quartet playing in an apartment converted to a small coffee/music spot. It was the coolest thing! I was upset I didn't have my horn with me, but I had a great time talking about music and having coffee after the band finished.
We'll add them to our playlist! Do you have a favorite song?
That's kind of like asking if I have a favorite kid. Lol! I think songs come and go depending on what you gravitate towards and honestly what's happening in your life. I do tend to listen to a song by Branford Marsalis called Lykief. Everything the band puts into it improvisation-wise just makes it really organic.
Ok: If you could spend a Friday evening at The Green Mill just hanging out and listening to music with 3 musicians, dead or alive, who would they be?
I've spent many nights hanging out with musicians at the Green Mill! I think it would be Miles Davis, David Bowie and Prince. That sounds like the beginning of a joke...
Ha! It totally does. What are some of your other interests outside of music? We read somewhere that musicians are almost always good cooks: True or False?
Definitely true! I love to cook. I've worked at several high-end Chicago restaurants in my life and I’ve picked up a thing or two here and there from some amazing chefs like Paul Bartilota and Tony Mantuano.
Wow—anything else your students would be surprised to learn about you?
First, after all my years performing, I still use things that I teach them in my own musical development. A student asked me recently how I know so much about music; I just laughed and said it's easy when you love it! Second, I'm younger than 50 years old. They're always guessing I'm over 50—Sigh! And third, I have a son and a daughter who both attend Lane Tech.
Two teenagers! So what do the children of a musician listen to? Do your kids like the same stuff you do?
I don't force my them to listen to what I listen to, and I don't do that with the students either. I kinda just put stuff on and let them absorb it! They'll usually come and ask me about some song or artist from 20-30 years ago, and then I know they're listening. There have been kids over the years here at school who are really into listening to music and tell me about cool stuff that I need to go check out. I love that!
There's a lot of musical talent at Waters, too! To that end, can you give us 3 reasons why kids should learn to play an instrument?
1. It's fun (Maybe not at first) 2. The connections you make with other musicians is immeasurable. I have a very diverse group of friends from all over the world simply because I play the saxophone. You can't put a price on that! 3. There's a level of discipline and effort that you put into playing music that will help with other facets of your life and it's a great way to channel your feelings or emotions.
Love it. Thank you so much Mr. Bradford.
This week we chatted with Annette Booczko, a Diverse Learner Support teacher who’s been at Waters for 12 years. She’s one of the most positive people we know and (seriously!) always has a smile on her face.
WT: You’ve been a Diverse Learner Support teacher for a few years now, but you’ve also had your own classroom. Can you tell us a little bit about your teaching history?
Ms. Booczko: After college, I spent a year teaching 2nd grade in the Milwaukee Public School system. Then I moved to Chicago to teach Spanish at Andrew Jackson Language Academy—a great experience, but my heart was just not in it. From there I went to Ruben Salazar Bilingual Center for 6 years, where I taught Kindergarten, 2nd, and 4th grades. After my first daughter was born, I spent 8 years teaching Kindergarten, 1st, and 3rd grades at Stockton Elementary in Uptown. During that time I had two more babies, so I took 3 years off to stay home with my kids. In 2009, I started at Waters! Since I’ve been here I’ve taught 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, and now I work with our wonderful diverse learners!
What do you love most about teaching at Waters?
Working with students is my favorite part of every teaching job I’ve had. They are what make every day unique!
You’ve taught so many different grades! Do you have a favorite?
If I had to pick, I’d say 1st grade is the most rewarding as a teacher. There is so much growth at that age.
Speaking of growth, where did you grow up?
I was born in Puerto Rico and lived there until I was 17. After graduating from high school, I took what is now a very popular “gap” year and went to France as an exchange student. From there I went there to college at Marquette University in Milwaukee. I’ve lived in Wisconsin or Illinois ever since, but home will forever be Puerto Rico.
That’s quite the journey—did you always want to be a teacher?
Actually I always wanted to be a sports reporter, but 1st semester freshman journalism class was not what I expected. Plan B had never even crossed my mind, but somehow I ended up in elementary education. Needless to say, some things are meant to be!
It’s been a crazy year, and you've spent a lot of time observing students in virtual classrooms. What’s your biggest takeaway?
Remote teaching has been an unbelievable experience, both positive and negative. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but a year ago I barely knew how to navigate a Google Classroom! Figuring out things like Google Meets, Jamboards, and presenting my screen felt like deciphering a foreign language. My biggest takeaway is that nothing can replace the live, daily interactions with students.
We’re sure there isn’t a parent or teacher who’d disagree with you. Do you have any advice for parents and caretakers who are concerned their kids will be "behind" after this year?
These are unchartered waters for all of us. There have been success stories as well as some very challenging moments, and this pandemic has truly affected everyone. Someway, somehow, we are all behind—but we will find our way back to our new normal.
And what would you say to kids who feel like life is never going to go back to "normal"?
I’d say I agree—life is not going to go back to normal, it’s going to be better!
There’s that trademark Ms. Booczko positivity! You are known for having such amazing classroom presence, both in person, of course, and also on screen—truly, there isn't a kid at Waters who doesn't know and love you. What's your secret?
It must be that I really, really, love teaching! I am very passionate about my job, take it very seriously, and enjoy what I do.
What else do you enjoy doing? How do you spend your time when you're not at school?
I enjoy watching just about every sport on TV—this includes cornhole and Spikeball tournaments, NASCAR, bass fishing, and curling. I also enjoy reading mysteries and cooking.
Wow, we didn’t even know televised cornhole tournaments existed! Is there anything your students would be surprised to learn about you?
Hmm, this is a good question because I think my former students know me pretty well. What if I share what I think most of my students would prefer not to know about me: I’m a Packers fan!!!
Love that you just dropped that bomb—we have a feeling you’re going to hear about this one! Final question: When the world goes back to normal, so to speak, what's the first thing you'll do?
Without a doubt, a trip to Puerto Rico to see my parents is #1 on my list. Most likely they will be the ones to travel to see all of their kids, but relaxing on a beach with them would be a welcome treat after this long year!
A little R+R in Puerto Rico sounds amazing to us, too. Thank you Ms. Booczko!
Big Night, our annual fundraiser, is coming up on May 22nd! This year, we have several sponsorship opportunities available. If you know a business (maybe a small business, or new company) looking for a bigger audience, we would love to work together to make this event like no other!
You can learn more and purchase a sponsorship by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mosaic art is in progress on the pizza oven. If you're interested in participating, please contact Rick Bolliger.
This week, we’re featuring Pete Leki: the man, the myth, the legend. The Humboldt Park native launched Waters’ beloved Ecology program in 1994 and has been tirelessly guiding its growth—and our children’s love of nature—ever since. Today, parents, sponsors, and community members help keep the Ecology program alive through donations to WatersToday.
Waters Today: When you first brought ecology to Waters, did you ever imagine it would grow to something like this?
Mr. Leki: Yes.
Given how passionate you are about it, we had a feeling you’d say that! How did it all come to be?
I started at Waters in 1991, as a parent. I was working shift work as a water plant operator for the City of Evanston. 1991 saw the advent of the first LSC's, and we withdrew our son Jamal from prestigious magnet school, and enrolled him at Waters, our low scoring, poverty racked, run down local school. (This story was published in "School Leadership in times of Urban Reform", Bizar, Blazer, Erlbaum Publishing, 2001, ppg 103-121). I chaired Council for 5 years. We were very underprepared for the awesome responsibilities we were given. But in 1992, our Principal retired and in the process of hiring a new one, we were introduced to the ideas of progressive education through colleagues from National-Louis University. This revelation guided our choices through the next 20 years: the integration of the subject areas, de-emphasis on hi-stakes testing, narrative report cards, engaging the real world both inside and outside of school, engaging the parents as co-teachers, co-learners in our adventure in education.
During my last years in the water plant, I returned to college and finished an interdisciplinary degree in ecology, education and neighborhood studies. Shortly after, I was hired by NLU Center for City Schools to bring the "Parent Project" to our school network.
If you weren't at Waters—which is hard to imagine!—what do you think you'd be doing instead?
I might try to help form a community school like one we ran for 8 years when my youngest son was five: the Sunflower School. The parents were the teachers. (I taught music and math). There were 14 kids, all ages, and we always had 3 teachers. What a ratio! We were able to do all sorts of wonderful things that are very hard to do in a big system. We had no grades, and no homework, except to play and read. The kids thrived.
That sounds amazing! Do any other places inspire the work that you do in Chicago? For example, are there other cities you've visited that have a deep respect for nature and have integrated it into the urban landscape?
Not really. I noticed that in Europe, cities and towns STOP. They have boundaries. They don't sprawl over the land as tawdry car dumps, and gas stations, and mini malls. The city ends and the country side begins. I don't know if it is still like that.
Speaking of other places, what are some of the best trips you've taken? I have made a decision not to fly for the past 25 years because of the environmental impacts. So most of the places I visited and loved have been very local. I like taking Metra and Amtrack, but wish they had windows that opened for fresh air. I wish I could fly on my own wings (or broom!) I also have dreamed that there could be public transport on Lake Michigan via sailboat! Imagine boarding downtown or at Montrose Harbor to go over to New Buffalo, or Muskeegon, or to Mackinaw City! Or north to Milwaukee and Door County. Imagine sails billowing with wind power, a bunk, a galley to dine on fish caught over the rail on the boat, ecology lectures, music, star gazing at night. The same with the Chicago River. Imagine tours through the canals to the Des Plaines and Illinois, with stops at all the old river towns, with their charming hotels and restaurants, and beleaguered history. It is true that the world is full of indescribable beauty, and it is important, especially for young people, to experience its majesty, so that they will be inspired to work for its survival.
The earth is in trouble; we know that, and our children will someday bear the weight of our generation's (and previous generation's) failures. Do you feel hopeful?
I feel like apologizing for leaving a world in worse shape than I found it. I think that we have to teach and practice critical thinking about the very foundational belief of capitalism: unending growth, extraction and exploitation of our world and its treasures. I'm encouraged that young people tend to be open minded and justice oriented.
And then there’s the technology piece of the puzzle. What is your advice to parents who feel overwhelmed by the amount of technology their kids are exposed to?
I will tell you what Jerry "the Iceman" Butler told me: "I don't give advice. Everybody wants to give it. Nobody wants to take it!" Still, maybe I would say to lure your children away from the screen by flooding them with the beauty and power of Nature, music, friends, play, dance, food and sleep.
Flooding them with nature sounds like a great plan. To that end, if families want to get more involved with the Ecology program when the pandemic is over, so to speak, where can parents sign up to volunteer?
On the ecology volunteers list at watersecology.org. Parents are an essential part of the Ecology programs—they are asked to lead, to learn, to explore and journal and discover with us at every grade level!
What would your students be surprised to learn about you?
· That my mother was taken by the Nazis to a Labor camp when she was 14.
· That I played piano in a soul band called The New Society.
· That I worked in the copper mines of Arizona as a millwright, was an officer in the Steelworkers Union, and went through two hard strikes during my seven years there.
Wow—no wonder you have so many interesting stories! Let’s end on a positive note: What is your happy place?
The Lake. It is a deep and powerful place, full of mystery.
Thank you so much, Mr. Leki! We can’t wait to see you in the garden when we’re all back together.
Mark your calendars for Waters annual event, Big Night (at Home) on May 22nd! This year our committee is working to make your at-home party just as fun as our in person event. We are looking for a few volunteers in the following areas:
-Soliciting donations for the Silent Auction & Raffles
-Organizing our popular Parent & Teacher Parties
-Filming and producing our Virtual Program
If you are interested in getting involved, meeting new parents, and helping raise funds for our school, we would love to talk! Reach out to our Auction Team or our Big Night Chairs for more information.
Gather your family and friends to celebrate and support our school community with our annual event, Big Night! This year, our committee is planning a new format so that you can celebrate safely at home. Stay tuned for more information on the virtual program, party packs, silent auction items, raffles, and more.
Want to get involved with planning this unique event? Reach out to Jennifer Davidson.
Wednesday, March 10, 7 p.m.
Please join the WatersToday board for their virtual open meeting. Learn more about our plans for Big Night, find out how you can get involved with fundraising and volunteer efforts, or share your ideas with board members.
After the meeting, board members will stick around to meet new parents and talk more about Big Night, our biggest event of the year. If you're new to Waters or looking to get more involved, we hope you will join us!
Kids do all kinds of amazing things— and we want to use this platform to shout their accomplishments from the rooftops! If there's a Waters student in your life who deserves some props for their hard work, big heart, exceptional talent, incredible courage (you get the idea!) send us an email at email@example.com.
This week, we’re excited to feature our Assistant Principal, the always lovely Nilsa Alvarez! She began her career in education 20 years ago, right here at Waters.
Waters Today: We love that you got your start at Waters like so many others at our school! Were you a teacher first?
Ms. Alvarez: Yes! I started as a bilingual kindergarten teacher in Room 107, and I absolutely loved it! Kindergarten students are the smartest and funniest little people ever. They kept me on my toes and taught me how to be flexible because things don’t always go according to plan with 5 year olds. I then became a 5th grade teacher in Room 210. That was quite a shift but I loved it too! They were also smart and much more independent than kindergarteners. That experience helped me to grow so much more as a teacher. I then became the Assistant Principal and I have been in this role for almost 15 years. It has been quite a journey but I wouldn’t have it any other way!
That’s awesome! Did you grow up here in Chicago?
I did. I attended my neighborhood school, Wicker Park Elementary (which is now Pritzker Elementary) from pre-k until I graduated in 8th grade. Wicker Park was a small school like Waters. Throughout all those years, I had many of the same classmates. I was also fortunate enough to share some of the same teachers as my older siblings. I see a lot of those similarities with the students and families growing up here at Waters. However, my community at that time was not very safe and we did not have much parental involvement. I have learned to see the value of having parents as partners and how much more a school can thrive when we all work together.
That’s definitely true, and we’re fortunate to have such a wonderful community at Waters. Did you always want to be in education?
As a little girl, I roleplayed as a teacher a lot and as a 6th grade student, I became a volunteer teacher assistant. From 6th grade through 8th grade, I would arrive at school early to help set up the class, grade homework or spelling tests and update the bulletin boards. I mostly helped Mrs. Goldberg; she was the first to encourage me to become a teacher. I was a little shy, but she would often tell me that she knew I could do it. At times, she would call me down to her class and have me administer a Friday test, or read a story to her students. I was so nervous at first but then I grew to enjoy it and couldn’t wait until the next time that she would call for me. Since then, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. However, if I hadn’t become a teacher, I think I would have liked to have owned a restaurant or a cafe. I enjoy trying new foods and the eating out experience. Going out to eat is a nice way for people to relax and have good conversation. Being able to provide these experiences for others would be something I would have enjoyed to do, if I wasn’t in education.
We all need a Mrs. Goldberg in our lives—she sounds awesome! What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
To put my family first because the love and wellbeing of your family and closest friends is the most valuable thing you can ever have. I think this past year has really proven that.
Absolutely! Ok, let’s switch gears: Is there anything the students might be surprised to learn about you?
Maybe that I am more adventurous than I appear to be. I love to travel and to go on excursions like ziplining, hiking on volcanoes or in caves, swimming with dolphins and sea turtles and even white water rafting.
You sound like an animal lover—do you have any pets?
Since I first carried home a stray as a 2nd grader, I have always had a dog. For the past 14 years, I was blessed with two sweet and playful girls, Nani and Taina. They were two small mixed breeds (chihuahua, rat terrier and poodle mixes). Taina was black and tan, and Nani was golden. Nani was also a rescue dog from Puerto Rico. Sadly, they both passed away in 2020. I still miss them so I think it will take a little time before I find my next puppy.
Oh, we are so sorry to hear that. Besides animals, what’s one thing that always puts a smile on your face?
It always makes me feel good when I can help someone. I guess that is what I loved best about being a teacher.
And if a genie granted you 3 wishes, what would they be?
My first wish would be to cure all illnesses. It really makes me sad to see people not feeling well. My second wish may sound cliche, but it would be for world peace. I think our world needs that right now. My third wish would be for more wishes—haha.
And now for the Assistant Principal Quickfire Round:
WOULD YOU RATHER...
Drink coffee or tea? I love both, but a good cup of coffee wins!
Be really hot or really cold? I prefer hot tropical weather.
Eat breakfast for every meal or dinner for every meal? Breakfast is my favorite meal!
Have the ability to be invisible or the ability to fly? To fly and explore the world.
Swim in a pool or swim in the ocean? Ugh! Both! I enjoy a clean pool and also being out connecting with nature.
Sing in front of a big group of people or dance in front of them? Dance!
Travel to the future or travel back in time? Travel back in time!
Find a family of mice in your house or a family of spiders? I would rather find spiders.
Eek—we are far less brave and would definitely take the mice! Thank you so much, Ms. Alvarez!!
We are excited to announce that Minted’s Fundraising Program will now be offered year-round, just in time for Valentine’s Day! Give back to Waters while sending some cheer to friends and loved ones this winter. You get 20% OFF Minted cards & gifts throughout the year when you use the promo code FUNDRAISEWATERS at checkout, and 15% of each order will be donated back to WatersToday.
This week we chatted with Lia Berezka-Zuniga, a third-grade teacher whose first year at Waters found her leading her class pandemic-style—oddly, something she’s done once before! Prior to Waters, she taught 2nd and 3rd grade in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood—and before that, she spent 2 years teaching English to elementary school kiddos in Daegu, South Korea. Remember the MERS outbreak?
Waters Today: We can’t believe this is your second time teaching during a pandemic. What are the odds of that?! Can you compare the two experiences?
Mrs. Berezka-Zuniga: The biggest difference is most definitely the mask culture. Many people in South Korea wear masks even when it is not a pandemic. For example, many people prefer to wear masks in the spring while walking outside when there is lots of allergens and pollution in the air. Others wear masks when they have the common cold to prevent them from spreading it. I was living in Korea for at least a year before the MERS outbreak hit. Since I had seen masks being worn all around me for quite some time, I was very comfortable wearing one. It was so important to me to protect others and myself there while I was a guest teacher.
Pandemic aside, what's the biggest difference between teaching here vs. in Asia?
Schools in East Asia are really formal. The students bow to their teachers before class begins and when class ends. That was really new for me! Students must call their teacher by their title, so I wasn’t called Ms. Berezka, I was called 선생님 Lia (Teacher Lia.) Finally—as my class knows— I have to talk about FOOD! School staff, teachers, and students eat the same meal at the same time in the cafeteria. I loved learning about new food and dining traditions along with my coworkers and students. I miss the long table filled with students and the silver trays full of delicious 반찬 (side dishes).
It sounds like you've traveled pretty extensively! If you could take your students on a field trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?
My class loves adventure and life science so I would take them to one of my favorite islands: Palawan, Philippines. We could explore an underwater cave, find macaques Monkeys hanging from trees, get spooked by a monitor lizard, snorkel to see beautiful coral, and still have time for a freshly grilled fish lunch with mango!
That sounds amazing—we’ll chaperone! Did you grow up somewhere far-flung?
Although my dad is from Poland and my mom is from the Philippines, I was actually born in Chicago and am a product of Chicago Public Schools! I went to an elementary school that is extremely diverse—lots of my classmates spoke a second language. Maybe that is where my love for international food and language came from! I really have to give my elementary and high school CPS teachers my respect and appreciation. Their practice most definitely inspired me to become a teacher myself. THANK YOU, TEACHERS!
Is it safe to assume you’ve always wanted to be a teacher?
Yes! And what I love most about teaching at Waters is the connections I’ve built with students, families, and staff. I have never physically met anyone at Waters...yet! However, I feel that we’ve built incredibly strong relationships despite all the challenges. It is clear that Waters is a community with strong collaborative relationships and I am honored to be a part of that! Special shout-out to my students and families for being there every step of the way!
Sounds like you have a lot of catching up to do when we’re all back together in person! If you could give your third graders one piece of advice, what would it be?
One of my teaching mentors gave me a poster I love to hang in my classroom every year. It says: “In this class, mistakes are expected, inspected, and respected.” Mistakes mean you tried, you took a risk, and you learned. That is a beautiful thing. I think we need to appreciate our mistakes, too!
We love that so much. What do you like to do when you're not teaching?
You can find me spending time with my daughter and husband, hunting for vintage treasures, cooking up a storm, reading about my next travel adventure, or watering my house plant collection. (It is slowly turning into a jungle in here!)
Anything your students would be surprised to learn about you?
I’ve spent more time behind the wheel of a motorbike than behind the wheel of a car! Also: I may or may not sometimes play “Animal Crossing.” :)
Fun! Thank you so much Mrs. Berezka-Zuniga—we can’t wait to meet you in person!
Scouts BSA Troop 894 (boys and girls) is hosting a fundraiser to help both our scouts AND our neighbors through the Friendship Center. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria Pizza coupons may be redeemed at any area Lou Malnati’s location for one 9” FROZEN pizza (sausage, pepperoni, cheese, or spinach). When you buy a coupon below, you can decide who gets a Pizza in their pantry: you or the Friendship Center (a neighborhood food pantry) or both! Get 1 for $13 or 2 for $25.
Troop 894 receives a portion of the proceeds, which will go toward upgrading camping equipment and deferring camping expenses for our scouts. Many in our troop attend Waters!
Go to https://tinyurl.com/pizzas4pantry to place your order! Thank you!
It’s the moment so many of you have been waiting for: Amy Vecchioni’s Teacher Feature! Our much-beloved visual art teacher has been doing her thing for 20 years, all of them at Waters. Super fun fact: She’s never driven a car, but she does have an adult tricycle!
Waters Today: Where did you grow up? Has art always been a big part of your life?
Ms. Vecchioni: I grew up on Big Blue Lake in Michigan. My front yard was a lake! It was a wild place. I learned so much from observing plants and animals. I was in and out of the water all day and would only go inside at dark. Most of my early art experience came in the form of making lakeside seaweed and mud pies. If I played in the woods, it would be elaborate fairy houses out of old stumps, flowers and stones. In winter, there was plenty of snow and ice to make stuff with. A life-sized snow unicorn with an icicle horn was a favorite…I was always making things as a child—but did not have formal exposure to art until high school. That said, art is a huge part of my life and always has been. Most of what I created as a child was ephemeral. I was always remaking it, so I never was too attached to the finished product. That starting over and over again is what I think draws me to art—I have a lot of energy!
That’s an understatement! So if for some reason you couldn't teach art, what would you do instead?
I don’t know! I learn so much and have so much fun teaching art! When I was little, I wanted to be an archeologist at Giza—I was a huge fan of the then-famous King Tut exhibition. I’d like to make a picture book series for children or create art adventure camps, so maybe that? I also think it would be cool to be a folklorist or oral historian too…I love listening to stories. Brené Brown says she’s a researcher storyteller, and that sounds fascinating.
What kinds of things do you create at home?
I work a lot in 3D media and have a good-size copper enameling kiln set-up in our laundry room. I feel like a modern-day Hephaestus sometimes! Teaching is my favorite art form though, always!
We suspect you have other hobbies, though we can’t imagine how you find the time…
Yes, I grow orchids and cactuses, I love to garden., I knit and enjoy board games…and I’m thinking our new Milkweed & Monarch Club is becoming a favorite hobby too.
You do such a great job showing kids that art is about creativity and self-expression, not perfection or even talent. Why is that so important?
My favorite visual art concept is wabi-sabi. Imperfection, impermanence and incompleteness are what make beauty in art. A crack in pottery is painted gold and celebrated! I share with the children that there isn’t a prescribed perfect, but a perfect for you. Creativity is a life skill we all use every day! I think talent is often mislabeled hard work, study or practice. I avoid praising product and focus on effort and intention. I love listening to students express themselves and explain their choices in a project. As students talk and share, they create a safe space for self-expression together. (I just keep track of the time!) Ultimately, I always go back to nature: there isn’t any perfect existence, there are just unending interpretation. We take risks in the art room and celebrate every iteration.
Love that so much. Lots of people think that fostering a love of art in their kids requires having an entire room filled with art supplies, which is expensive and intimidating! What do you recommend having on hand?
I think it’s best to ask your child what kind of art they like and/or would like to create. Often, we can build an art kit from those questions. A lot of youth are interested in new illustration media and have specific requests. Younger students may need some suggestions and/or options.
Some Quick Tips:
Paper: One thing that I think is always important is a lot of good paper. It needs to be heavy stock (thicker than printer paper) and matte finish.
Wet Media: My favorite watercolor paint set is 24 Washable Colors by Crayola. Great colors!
Dry Media: Crayons are really the best media for most of us---such range of color and mixing potential. A black marker or Sharpie is great for any form of definition and a set of markers is a great option. Older students often enjoy illustration markers and watercolor pencils.
3D: I like cardboard, scissors and 3D adhesives such as clear tape, glue stick and other tapes. A couple other great supplies for 3D construction are brass fasteners and tempera paint sticks.
(Our next Cardboard Challenge: 01.29.21!)
Great tips, and the challenge is on our calendar! What advice would you give to your 10 year old self?
Be YOU. 100%.
And now for the Art Teacher Quickfire Round! What's your favorite...
Museum: NEUE Galerie: Museum of German and Austrian Art, NYC, Gli Uffizi, Florence, Italy, Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice, Italy.
Artist: Oh My! I have so many…Three artists that are always inspiring to me: Yayoi Kusama, Frida Kahlo and Wassily Kandinsky.
Work of art: 3AGAIN…Lady with Ermine, Leonardo da Vinci and Tree of Life, Stoclet Frieze Gustav Klimt, and all of the many biomorphic installations of Ruth Asawa!
Place to travel: Santa Fe, Italy & the Yucatán!
Band or musician: Jorja Smith (current), Johnny Cash (classic) and Billie Holiday (all-time favorite)
Movie: Bladerunner (Ridley Scott)
Book: I love Russian literature--The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky. And I still love my first favorite book too--Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell… Right now, I’m reading We Make the Road by Walking by Miles Horton and Paulo Freire—Excellent!
PHEW! Thanks so much Ms. Vecchioni! We’ll take some of that boundless energy to go, please!
This week we caught up with Jessica Collins-Gonzalez, a 6th grade teacher who’s currently on maternity leave with her baby girl, Helena. She’s been teaching for 14 years, 4 of them at Waters—and she’ll be back next fall!
Waters Today: Maternity leave in the middle of a pandemic! What’s that been like?
Ms. Collins-Gonzalez: It’s been wonderful so far. We are blessed to have a happy, healthy baby girl. The good thing about having a baby during the pandemic is that everyone is staying home these days, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything staying home with your little one.
What’s the biggest thing that’s changed now that you’re a mom?
The super mom senses! Moms can hear and see everything. I never believed it before, but it’s true.
As fellow moms, we totally agree! When Covid is over, what's the first thing you'll do that you can't do now? Take my baby girl to meet all of our friends and family. There are so many aunts, uncles and cousins that she hasn’t been able to meet yet.
Aww. Where did you grow up and go to elementary school?
In Waukesha, Wisconsin—I loved my elementary school! Some of the things that stick out as highlights of my grade school years were my awesome teachers, playing the flute in our school band, and going camping with my 5th grade class.
What's the best thing about teaching middle school?
The thing that I like about teaching the intermediate grades is that you really get to know your students’ personalities and sense of humor. It’s kind of a pivotal point where students are discovering who they are and who they want to be.
If you couldn't be a teacher, what would you be?
I think that I would like to be a travel journalist. It would be so fun to see the world and write about my adventures.
What’s the coolest place you’ve ever been?
The Amazon Rainforest! I lived in Ecuador for a year and taught English with a volunteer organization called World Teach. When my parents came to visit me we went on a week long vacation to the Amazon. It was a dream come true. We stayed in a little hut and spent our days exploring the jungle, with a guide of course. Our incredible guide lead us to 8 different types of monkeys, pink river dolphins, sloths, poison dart frogs and so much more.
That’s awesome—speaking of animals, what’s your spirit animal?
Probably an elephant. A few years ago I visited and elephant sanctuary in Thailand and fell in love with these gentle giants.
You’ve traveled a ton! What else would your students be surprised to learn about you? That my first job was working as a farm hand. I would ride my bike to the farm early in the morning to pick melons and vegetables from the fields. It was super hard work! The corn fields were wet and muddy in the morning and the stalks cut you up as you walked through. Plus for all my mud stains, cuts and sore muscles I only made $4.24 per hour. It was a tough job, but it really made me appreciate all the work that goes into the delicious food we eat.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
I would have to say, “Be a leader not a follower.” My dad always told me this growing up and as an adult I still believe it’s true.
Great advice! Thank you so much Ms. Collins—see you in the fall!
As 2020 comes to an end, The Circle of Help would like to thank the Waters administration, our incredible teachers and staff, WatersToday, Waters Local School Council, and all of you who have helped support our most vulnerable families during this very difficult year.
As the year wraps we are incredibly thankful for so many of you who have volunteered time, donated money, delivered items, and stepped up in so many ways during this pandemic time.
Over the last few months, we have accomplished so much, therefore, we wanted to share with you a few personal stories that The Circle of Help has made possible with YOUR help.
We have delivered food, medicine, and good cheer to families with COVID who were so glad to have additional help in their most difficult time of need.
We have provided a family with child care assistance after they had to take a different job to accommodate their child’s remote learning schedule. ‘
We hand delivered printers to families that needed an extra boost for their learning because a teacher noticed they needed some extra help.
We have put Christmas presents under a family’s tree when they didn’t have any.
We have purchased special glasses for children who were struggling with increased screen time.
We have provided housing essentials to families that have lost family members this year and who needed the extra help.
We have purchased cat toys for a family with special needs that are comforted by their animals.
We have made care packages for teenagers who were struggling with the lockdown.
We’re still going strong! In 2021, we're hoping to expand into providing educational support/tutoring, extracurricular opportunities, and helping with childcare for working families. Stay tuned!
We are so grateful for your generosity and help, and so are our families in need. From the whole of our hearts, thank you so much for giving so generously of your time, money, and spirit!
If you would like to learn more about The Circle of Help, join our Facebook group (www.facebook.com/groups/2016484045301461/) or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If your family is in need, please email us at email@example.com
We hope you had a wonderful holiday!
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