BRONX, NY – It’s certainly no regents exam, but students in Harry S Truman High School’s Advanced Placement (AP) Art course are putting the finishing touches on the most important portfolio of their high school careers. Now in its second year, this very rigorous course is not for the faint-of-heart.
“It’s student driven,” according to Art Teacher Ms. Paula Mills. ” They have to investigate and really make personal decisions about their artwork… For many of them it really is an expression of themselves, of what they’re dealing with at the moment.”
The AP Art portfolio is submitted to the College Board, where a panel of experts evaluate the work based on quality, concentration and breadth. Each student earns a score between 1 and 5. A high enough score can translate into college credits.
“You have to be incredibly involved and you have to want to do this,” Ms. Mills added. She says her students stay after school three times per week, and even come in on Saturdays to get the work done by the deadline. The requirements go far beyond simply painting and drawing, as well.
“They have to write a commentary about their work, and that’s difficult for a lot of them. It’s difficult for anybody,” Ms. Mills said. “The English teachers have edited, they’ve given them suggestions, they’ve been wonderful.” The project also sparked collaboration with the Mr. Raphael Lopez’s photography class, who helped digitize dozens of paintings and drawings. Truman’s Media program lent their computer lab for uploading and submitting the portfolios to the College Board.
“All of the teachers have been really involved. The whole school really has been instrumental in making this happen,” Ms. Mills said.
But nowhere can that collaboration be felt more strongly, than inside the AP Art classroom.
“I think they have been so good to each other. They’ve helped each other,” Ms. Mills said. “One student, Oscar [Anzora] has photographed everybody’s work. Anthony [Rosado] was the first finished- [he] still came in after school to help everybody else. Apart from the artwork, they’ve built such a community among themselves. That’s amazing.”
“It feels wonderful because when I came to this school I didn’t have a lot of friends,” said Anzora, who moved to the U.S. from El Salvador five years ago. “I feel very accepted by them because we didn’t know that much about each other but we are in a class where we always share ideas and skills… it’s really helpful it makes me feel really loved by them.”
“To see everybody’s different struggle and to get different ideas from everybody else’s point of view, that made us become one,” Rosado said.
Students must complete at least two art classes before being considered for the AP program. In addition to bringing on a new teacher, Ms. Angela Vennochi, Ms. Mills says the school is planning to continue growing the Art department by adding an advanced drawing and computer-driven art course in the near future.
Ms. Mills also encouraged members of the community to come to Truman on June 10th for the annual public art show. It will feature not only the work of AP Art students, but also those in the studio art and drawing classes as well.
“It’s very important that everybody get’s to see how talented these students are,” Ms. Mills stressed. “And they’re amazingly talented.”