Well, it was a looooong winter! To say that students and teachers alike were all ready for a break by April was an understatement. However, we did something that kept us going. We had a purpose and a project thanks to UConn. By April my classes had produced 6 collaboratively designed murals. I noticed early on that getting the kids the art kits was one thing. Having enough consistency between students to all produce fully painted artworks was quite another. We took those challenges of inconsistency and turned them into positive expression.
We did it all. We did basic drawing and painting lessons, appreciation of master artists’ work especially muralists work. We played games. We talked casually and we talked supportively with students that were struggling and wanted share. My students and I talked about identifying emotions and their corresponding colors. It helped to just talk sometimes. Confusing times require flexible teaching.
We definitely had our successes. Classes started with a wave of good positive energy when the art kits were distributed. January was productive. February was ok. March was just LOOOONG and that’s where it all changed. Our learning model (Virtual/ Hybrid/ In-person) changed 2 or 3 times in that time period. I would get on a groove with a group of students and then it was like HEY! Mr. Gilmore we need this cohort to change, Bye-Bye united classroom! Kids were in-person. Then they were virtual only. The switching was crazy. No Consistency!
Somewhere around December of January the kids seemed to relax into that schedule and we did well. Some of the themes for creating murals were: Celebrating Diversity, The culture of Food, Celebrating Our Cultures (Hartford/USA, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Brazil). Collaboratively, we produced the all of mural designs that you see here.
However, time passed. More kits were given out until the beginning of spring break. I got my vaccination in full by April 8th and I was then, back setting up to teach in-person AND Virtually. Spring Break has come and gone. I now get the opportunity to do some painting in-person with some kids! The 4 mural line drawings designs that are pictured below are now like huge coloring books.
I took the kids’ ideas and drawings and paintings and put them into one composition. My classes will get a print out of the design and add color as a sketch. Finally, we will have each class fill in the colors to fully paint the compositions.
It’s been great to get some kids painting on these kid designed murals. I am excited about that! This is what the mural intervention program should have been sans Covid. However, Covid has made me rethink art teaching and expand the process of community mural making to something I had not thought of before, me as the surrogate painter to what could be kids and community members from all across the country. There is a method that is scalable here and it is engaging!
We’re in the home stretch of Covid School, 8 weeks to go! These are going to be some PACKED 6 more weeks! TONS of good work yet to do. School is far different than when I left In-Person school back on March 13th, 2020. The art kits are still essential, even in-person. It makes my art life in pandemic school way easier. I know we will get the 4 murals painted in and installed. I am unsure what we can accomplish otherwise. However, I do know we can do hard things. I do know we will come away with beautiful creations that all students both in-person and virtual can feel proud about adding their part to a larger good for their community in difficult circumstances.
During January 2021 I completed the first mural sized portrait of a series that I have named the Hero Teacher Project. It is of Narciso Moquete the outstanding 4th grade teacher that was voted the 2019 Hartford Teacher of the Year. Narciso and I met shortly after he had won the award in the fall of the 2019-2020 school year. One year later, I held a virtual unveiling of the portrait that had about 70 people show up through Zoom to celebrate this amazing educator (unveiling video coming soon).
The unveiling was a complete rush!! Everyone was so happy to see their friend, relative, teacher, and hero immortalized. There was immense positivity around the accomplishments of this one man. This is how it should be; teachers being celebrated as the great humanitarians that they are. The heroes that I am celebrating are educators that have gone to great lengths to connect with their students and families in innovative ways.
The success of this one portrait has fostered good questions like: Why are there not enough teachers of color in our public schools? Why are there not enough art teachers to go around? Why are teachers spending their own money to fund this classrooms? I feel people want to have these conversations. The people of America LOVE teachers yet state and district policy/ funding do not always support teachers as they should. I feel it’s time to bring educators together in a positive light and redefine the American Teacher as a Hero.
We believe that teachers are the backbone of education. To elevate their love and labor through the magic of art, the Hero Teacher Project celebrates public school teachers by painting larger-than-life sized portraits of an inspiring teacher from each of the 50 states, plus DC. The paintings not only recognize the contributions of our nation’s leading educators, but also highlight those from historically underrepresented and unsung backgrounds, such as teachers of color and those who pioneer in the arts. Upon completion of this project, we will invite all 51 teachers and members of the public to Washington DC for an unveiling and celebration of their teaching excellence and of public education.
Teachers are amazing people that can be whatever their students, families, and schools need them to be. They can be educators, therapists, counselors, surrogate parents, family therapists, their own tech-support, and their own classroom’s financial sponsors. Teachers are the glue that have been holding the woefully underfunded American school system together, at least for the past 20 years.
My aim with the Hero Teacher Project is to show the country what gems they have in each state. My goal is to tell the teachers’ stories. I want the country to come together around these 51 heroes and demand appropriate support for their unwavering efforts. I will make sure that teachers are celebrated appropriately by their own communities. Thus, ensuring teachers are always valued as a group of dedicated and highly skilled professionals whose only calling is to care for the children and the families of our nation.
When all of the portraits from each state have been completed all 51 portraits will be brought to Washington DC for the GRAND UNVEILING of the HERO TEACHER PROJECT. There, all Hero Teachers will gather together on the Washington Mall to speak to the American Community. This will be a chance for teachers to focus the conversation around the future of education on students and learning. This will be a chance to bring our country, states, and districts leaders together to celebrate the American Public School Teacher. This will be a moment to say that we cannot have success in schools without our national, state, and district leaders, our families, our students and teachers working together. We need everyone on board to make education in America exactly what it should be, a wonderful place for all to grow, achieve, and discover.
I have begun this art journey already! We are creating a Kickstarter campaign to be launched in the fall of 2021 to raise money for supplies and travel to create the paintings and interviews. The Hero Teacher Project Art Exhibition will be held in Washington DC soon after we complete 50 more Portrait Unveilings! Fundraising for the show will be complete in 2022 to be held in the summer of 2023.
I will work with the Council of Chief State School Officers, the organization that is responsible for running the National Teacher of the Year program for the United States of America to promote the project.
Criteria for choice of teacher as a Hero Teacher: Someone who has had to overcome incredible odds to become a teacher and connect so well with students, staff, and families that they have been elevated to teacher of the year through their unusual practice.
Hero teachers must be currently practicing so I can observe them in action with students in order to get to know them as an educator.
There are currently far more white teachers than teachers of color.
“In 2017–18, about 79 percent of public school teachers were White, 9 percent were Hispanic, 7 percent were Black, 2 percent were Asian, 2 percent were of Two or more races, and 1 percent were American Indian/Alaska Native; additionally, those who were Pacific Islander made up less than 1 percent of public school teachers. The percentage of public school teachers who were White and the percentage who were Black were lower in 2017–18 than in 1999–2000, when 84 percent were White and 8 percent were Black.2 In contrast, the percentage who were Hispanic was higher in 2017–18 than in 1999–2000, when 6 percent were Hispanic.” – National Center for Education Statistics
We need to promote K-12 teaching as a realistic career choice for people of minorities. Young people of color need to see images of people that look like them as high achievers in the field of public education if they are going to consider educator as a possible career choice. Kids also need to see themselves in their teachers in order to know that they too can succeed in this society. I will choose minority educators as Hero teachers whenever possible.
The arts are also under represented in the schools and are also in need of new teachers. We need more art teachers. I believe we are about to turn a corner on the importance of the arts. Thus, the arts will move back into favor with school boards along side of the core 4 subjects. We will need artists to see themselves as valued members of the education community. I will celebrate the award winning arts teacher as a Hero Teacher whenever possible.
My Wife, Lindsay, daughter Elan (10), Son Arion (7), and daughter Seren (5) will be helping me every step of the way to meet the Hero Teacher Project Mission and Goals. We are so excited to show them the teachers of this great nation in such a granular and personal way.
Lindsay worked very hard to make our home classroom during the 2020-2021 School year a better place to learn. To do this in a pandemic and continue to run the household as she does is a true accomplishment. Who else is a Hero teacher here?
I was supposed to work with small groups of kids during a daily enrichment period to create murals on the walls of the school. We were going to monitor their attitudes toward school and see if the community project may change how they feel towards school. By the end of the project my students would have developed new skills, new relationships, and a new found interest in art and/ or education.
However, the world has been changed by a vicious microorganism and the plan I laid out for the grant was not spared. Things had to change, A LOT!! I was afforded a waiver under the Americans with Disabilities Act to stay at home and teach remotely due to asthma. It helped that well over 200 students’ families from McDonough decided to keep our students home for safety.
In late August 2020 I began my class through Google Meets run out of my basement. I said OK! Fine! We’re still doing this! Our community murals will not be created with the community in-person but at a distance with an online community. So, rather than using the $5000 grant to buy lovely art supplies that would be used communally for years to come at McDonough I decided I would attempt a crazy thing. I would attempt to give Middle school age children their own set of permanent acrylic paints and other art supplies which will be used to make one piece of a mural per child. And guess what? I did just that!
It took awhile and our purchasing had many hurdles thanks to Covid’s low store supplies and ransomeware that attacked Hartford’s systems. However, by the beginning of December we were able to purchase paint, brushes, canvas papers, sketchbooks, color pencils, pencils, portion cups (for paint), and plastic boxes to make mural kits (thanks Mom!!) It took a few weeks but my wonderful family and I poured, placed, and pieced together 110 mural Art Kits!! Finally, it felt great to drop off the kits at McDonough for the Art Kit pick up day.
The McDonough office staff has been instrumental in distributing the kits for a last few weeks before the holiday break. Even the security guard was nice enough to bag and hand out the kits which included some last minute district purchased supplies. Ever since the first pick up day families have been happily coming out of their way to be handed an art kit at the school door in the middle of a pandemic.
Some McDonough staff and even Admin themselves dropped off kits to the kids’ homes directly that could not get to the school. It has actually turned out to be a large community effort already! I had no idea so many folks would still be involved even though the classes are remote.
I was fortunate to be chosen as the grant recipient. I was fortunate to be chosen as the on line art teacher. I am grateful for the people that are working to support the effort to bring art into our children’s homes. Success through adversity requires creative solutions as well as a whole community of people striving together to traverse the barrier. I feel we have already succeeded as a community. Art finds a way.
We studied Plutchik’s emotional color wheel which lead us to self portraits as defined by the colors we chose to represent the 8 basic emotions.
“Psychologist Robert Plutchik states that there are 8 basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust. Plutchik’s wheel of emotions illustrates these 8 basic emotions and the various ways they relate to one another, including which ones are opposites and which ones can easily turn into another one.” – Melissa Donaldson – https://www.6seconds.org/2017/04/27/plutchiks-model-of-emotions/
I had no idea how talented the kids up in Hartford are. Well, these Middle Schoolers got some mad skills, yo! I challenged one 8th grade class with what they would want to see in Hartford in the future and show it in a mural.
We decided to inspire future McDonough students to make that future a reality. Turns out what Hartford seems to be lacking are places for kids to go enjoy music, art, dance, and theatre. Creative passions were common themes for images in the mural. The kids also wanted more nature incorporated into the city scape.
When we started the kids didn’t know what a mural was. Now they can say they have left a positive and inspirational mark on the school where they spent 3 formative years. I’m so proud of my new Muralists. It took a full semester but we did it! The talent shown through perseverance, community, and respect for each other’s visions.
At McDonough Expeditionary Middle School in Hartford CT I have enjoyed my first semester as a full time Art Teacher. Here’s some of the work we completed in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade art classes. We explored line, shape, form, and did a LOT of work with pattern. Ultimately, we created one acrylic painting on canvas board.
The process was exciting to watch! Many students began in August saying, ” BUT Mr.! I don’t know how to draw! I’m not any good art!” By the end they didn’t want to stop painting. All made progress and seemed to enjoy themselves creating and that is always my main goal for all students. Make progress. Grow. Learn. Try something new. Fail. Learn. Succeed in expanding your experience. In this, I know we all felt a new appreciation for positive self-expression.
The Excelsior District of San Francisco’s only public sculpture completed in 2014. It was a great project with A LOT of creative freedom and a fabulous community to work with. A true community accomplishment! I’m proud to have played a part. And it still looks great in 2018!
“A tremendously talented and dedicated Project Team was organized to bring this project to life. Isis Rodriguez, an award-winning international artist based in San Francisco’s Excelsior district, was the designer for the metal sculpture. Jason Gilmore, a local artist and educator who has worked on murals in the Excelsior, was the mosaic designer for the column. Aurelio Lofaro, an Italian Master Blacksmith based out of Petaluma and educated in architecture, industrial design, metallurgy, and fine art, was the fabricator for the sculpture. Structural Engineer Jack Laws of Structural Design Engineers served as design consultant on this project. Local residents Grace D’Anca and Debbie LeDet led a team of loyal volunteers to piece together the mosaic panels one tile at a time over the course of seven months. Suaro Cervantes, master grouter of Precita Eyes, led a team of volunteers to grout the mosaic panels to the column. The Excelsior Action Group was the non-profit organization managing the project under the leadership of Corridor Manager and Excelsior native, Nicole Jesslyn Agbayani.” – Full Article below.
EVER UPWARD is a one-of-a-kind sculpture that heralds the gateway to a bustling and diverse neighborhood of San Francisco, the Excelsior. The first sculpture in the neighborhood, Ever Upward was awarded San Francisco’s Neighborhood Empowerment Network Award in 2013 for Best Community Challenge Grant Project.
The Ever Upward Story
Since its establishment in the early 1900’s, the population in the Excelsior Neighborhood has always been largely immigrant-mainly Italian and Irish at the beginning-and working class. Its relative isolation and distance from downtown helped ensure its affordability and the “small-town” feel that so many longtime residents recall. John Consiglieri, a 98-year-old, lifelong resident recalls the early days, when the neighborhood was less densely populated, “The Excelsior was full of farms back then. We were the original producers of local food.” In the 1970’s and 80’s, a new wave of immigrant residents hailing from China, Southeast Asia, and Latin America began moving into the neighborhood. More recently, middle and upper middle-class professionals who have found themselves priced out of other parts of San Francisco have begun to move into the neighborhood, many with their young families, to add yet another ethnic and socio-economic layer to the rich diversity that characterizes the Excelsior.
The concept for the Ever Upward Project first arose during the 2009 Excelsior Art Summit, at which over 50 local artists of all ages and mediums convened with community stakeholders to dialogue about projects for the neighborhood. Artists called for a project to mark the gateways to the Excelsior Community, most notably our bustling southern gateway at the intersection of Geneva Avenue & Mission Street. Over the past few years, the Excelsior Action Group has executed earlier phases of the gateway project, including a garden and mosaic installation at Geneva & Mission in 2009 and a mural spanning the 280 Overpass at the neighborhood’s northern extremity in 2010. In 2012, the Excelsior Action Group received funding from the City of San Francisco to begin a robust community design process and install a piece of public art at the southern gateway. Over the course of six public meetings with the help of at least 200 community members, the design concept for Ever Upward was born. The most salient ideas that came from our community process described the Excelsior neighborhood as a landing point for immigrants and working class families who endeavor to raise themselves ever upward.
A tremendously talented and dedicated Project Team was organized to bring this project to life. Isis Rodriguez, an award-winning international artist based in San Francisco’s Excelsior district, was the designer for the metal sculpture. Jason Gilmore, a local artist and educator who has worked on murals in the Excelsior, was the mosaic designer for the column. Aurelio Lofaro, an Italian Master Blacksmith based out of Petaluma and educated in architecture, industrial design, metallurgy, and fine art, was the fabricator for the sculpture. Structural Engineer Jack Laws of Structural Design Engineers served as design consultant on this project. Local residents Grace D’Anca and Debbie LeDet led a team of loyal volunteers to piece together the mosaic panels one tile at a time over the course of seven months. Suaro Cervantes, master grouter of Precita Eyes, led a team of volunteers to grout the mosaic panels to the column. The Excelsior Action Group was the non-profit organization managing the project under the leadership of Corridor Manager and Excelsior native, Nicole Jesslyn Agbayani. Project funders included the S.F. Community Challenge Grant Program, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, District 11 Supervisor Avalos, the San Francisco Foundation, the Max and Anna Levinson Foundation, the Jewish Home of San Francisco, and many local businesses and residents. Hundreds of Excelsior community members dedicated their ideas, energy, and time to move this project forward.
Preserve the project!
The Excelsior Action Group & a committed team of community volunteers are working to preserve Ever Upward for years to come. We are raising a maintenance endowment and we need your support! All donations to this project are tax-deductible.
We is in dream country, the BFG said. This is where all the dreams is beginning.”
In 2016 I got the opportunity to help promote the opening of a newer branch of a local brick and mortar bookstore in Novato, CA, Copperfield’s Books.
They had these big windows in front of their children’s section that were covered by book cases so they naturally wanted to spiff them up. So they asked if I could paint on windows. Of course I said YES! BUT I also said I don’t know how long they will last. I thought a year or two with a good amount Sheercoat would do it. Well two years later and guess what? It didn’t chip, flake, or even slide off the window! It still looks great!
BFG had just come out as a Spielberg movie so we used the hype to get folks into the new store. I rather enjoyed the movie. Very close to the book. So I based the design on the Dream jars in which to put a collection of popular and classic book characters on display.
It was really fun to paint all of the characters of my favorite childhood books. My own daughter, Elan even got to be my apprentice that summer.
In December of 2017 I was told that I was a recipient of an ieSonoma Innovative Educator Grant. One project that made a HUGE difference in my Special Day Class 7th grade Science classes was the installation of a garden outside of my classroom. There were gardens there previously but not for growing food. My classes made 3 raised beds with the help of Roots to Branches .
Zach came in and led us in a great discussion of the basics of gardening. How to bring a plant from seed to seedling to food. He came and built garden boxes with our Cook MS Mustangs in just a few hours! Amazing. Then 4 cubic feet of soil was donated by Wheeler Zamaroni Stone fabrication and Landscape Supplies.
The kids dug, and toted and lifted, and dumped until there were blisters and sore limbs. They filled those 3 boxes in a great collaborative effort. Mind you, a good number of these kids have a real hard time in an academic classroom. Many get in trouble because they just don’t want to sit still at a desk ALL DAY EVERYDAY! Who can blame them?! No laziness here! All were engaged and enjoyed there collective tasks.
Then, the science! Plant Cells and cheek cells under microscopes. We built animal cells out of plaster and paint while we learned about the functions and names of the cell organelles.
We drew the plant system. We watched gardeners tell us how to grow starters seedlings. We learned about hardening off the plants. And eventually we planted our seedling we grew indoors and they have been delicious!! Carrots, Peas, strawberries, lettuce, rosemary, onions, corn, and flowers! Thanks to Growbiz on 3rd st. in Santa Rosa, CA. They hooked us up with starter trays, heating mats, a grow light, and temperature monitor. We ran experiments on heat, no heat, lower/ higher heat. More/ less fertilizer, etc.
We even took soil samples and tested levels of Phosophorus, Potash, Nitrogen, and the PH balance. Litmus paper has nothing on soil samples!! We used litmus paper too! AND at the end I tested the kids and low and behold they could tell me the process we went through to grow our plant life, the cells and parts of the cells, how the different nutrients affected parts of the functions of the cells.
Guess what!? Our non garden non hands-on time with books and workbooks yielded less positive retention of material. And the best part these junk food loving kids said MMM!! These carrots are really good! Sweet! Hey I like peas! At least these, I like. Is it innovative to have kids actually DO something in class? I hope not. Look the results!
We even found a boat shaped box and filled that with life too!! My art class helped out with the beautification of our boat planter.
OH and don’t let me forget these two crafty ladies who said, “We’re putting this thing together!” and stayed through lunch to finish it! Our composter.
During the 2015-2016 school year at Cook MS I was tasked with teaching 7th and 8th grade history to Students in my history Special Day classes. Most of the students at Cook Middle School have Mexican roots. They were unaware of Mesoamerican history. So, we dove into the Aztecs, Maya and Inca.
We learned about the engineering prowess of Tenochtitlan, the last Aztec emperor Cuauhtemoc, Spaniard rule, French rule, the Mexican American war, and Cinco DeMayo. We then, went into the Chicano movement in the 50’s and 60’s and Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers striking. Of course we looked into the future and how education can improve life for the people.
The mural was designed and painted by the 7th and 8th grade history students. They had to ask permission to paint on the school wall, show concept designs to the school Site council, and present the mural design and meaning to the principal. Each section of the mural was given to a group of students to present and explain. Of course, Principal Gannon was impressed and approved the design. It took my four classes about a month and a half to paint.
In the end, it was a fabulous project to start a chain of student-centered projects to engage the school as a community and give struggling learners a real stake in their school.