MPS students create tiles for local community garden

June 1, 2017

By Katherine Keller

Four of the beautiful tiles made by Kate Vannoy’s Audubon High School students for the Hide House Community Garden plots. PHOTO Katherine Keller

Bay View resident Kate Vannoy discovered the Hide House Community Garden a number of years ago as she walked her dogs around her neighborhood. Last year her friend Tiffany Hoebeck rented a plot in the garden and Vannoy thought, “I want to do that too.”

There are 105 plots in the community garden on Deer Place between Greeley and Burrell streets. Since the raised beds were established in 2010, an attempt was made to identify the plots by painting its number on the frame. But the paint didn’t last long and the numbers faded to a state of illegibility.

Last year some of the HHCG members thought tile numbers would be a more durable solution, but when they researched prices, they found it would be cost-prohibitive.

Audubon High School students Byron Radford and Ximena Piedrabuena-Alcaraz participated in tile-making, a service-learning project that offered students the opportunity to help a community-based organization, while experiencing the complete range of ceramics. PHOTO Kate Vannoy

What about making tiles, they wondered. Lin Lindner and Tim Mckeehan, who own Terra Domus Design Group, a handmade tile, mosaics, and pottery studio in the Hide House, offered the use of their studio for garden members to make tiles. But only a few members signed up.

Then Kate Vannoy stepped up. She teaches art at Audubon Technology and Communication High School and thought tile-making would be a good project for her students.

Vannoy assigned the project to her class of 25 students with autism and special needs. The previous year she taught a regular art curriculum to many of those students but this year she wanted to give them a new and practical art experience.

Erika Bufkin incises a number into the clay in the early stages of tile production. PHOTO Kate Vannoy

It would be part of a service-learning curriculum that offered her students the opportunity to help a community-based organization, while experiencing the complete range of ceramics.

That range included every step from clay to firing. “My students did everything from reclaiming old clay, wedging, forming tiles, decorating, bisque firing, glazing, re-firing, cataloging, packaging, distribution — with all the trials and tribulations, including remaking tiles — that happened throughout the long, involved process,” Vannoy said.

The class made a number tile for each side of each frame. That’s 105 plots — 420 tiles, each about 5.5 inches square. They worked on the project from February until the end of May.

“There are 25 students enrolled in the course, but we also have three to five paraprofessionals and health care assistants in the class, and more often than not, we had additional students who came through to help,” Vannoy said. In all, a total of 30 students and eight adults had a hand in creating the tiles.

Working with clay is always a favorite art project for high school students, Vannoy said. But this was more than an assignment to make a coffee mug or vase. It was a project that required many skills.

“(By) working on a project of this scale, the students have become proficient in knowing what each stage of the clay-to-ceramic process is and how to tell what will work and what might not,” she explained. “They had the chance to experiment, then try something else if it did not work out the way they wanted. Some of the students in our class enjoy repetition and work exceptionally well with sequential processes. This was a perfect project to build on those strengths while experiencing something new, all while helping their community.”

The Audubon High students made a number tile for each side of each frame at the Hide House Community Garden. They made 420 tiles, each about 5.5 inches square. They worked on the project from February until the end of May. PHOTO Kate Vannoy

“I liked crafting and sketching and decorating,” said Byron Radford. “And glazing to make it shine. I made scratch marks and different designs around the numbers.” He embellished the tiles with multiple colors.

Alejandro Rentas, who said he enjoyed the tile project, agreed. “I like making my own designs,” he said, but added that it was challenging to draw the lines into the clay to create the number shapes.

Paraprofessional Rokenda Smith saw the students become more cohesive as they worked on the project. “I noticed they learned to work as a team. It became a group effort,” she said.

“Everyone showed artistic ability with color, design. The tiles were personal and original,” said Angee Berté, another of the classroom’s paraprofessionals. There were many steps that the students learned before they had a finished tile. “They flattened the clay, cut squares, made designs, allowed them to dry, applied the glaze before they were fired in the kiln,” Berté said.

“They were so excited when we started, then some of the adults and students, who don’t love repetition, got bored after awhile with the constant forming, decorating, and remaking tiles,” Vannoy said. “However, it was about then that we started firing and glazing so most got excited and interested again. By the end everyone was happy to try out their new ceramic skills on projects for themselves, challenging themselves with different forms.”

Vannoy said that she is planning a field trip when school begins in fall, so the students can see their tiles in place in the Hide House Garden.

“I would love for our students to come and see the gardens. Too many of our students have limited access to whole fresh produce. We have some small plots at school for some students to work and harvest, but I think it is important for students to have access to gardens at home — in their neighborhoods. Wouldn’t it be great if all neighborhoods had community gardens?

Dr. Kate
Kate Vannoy holds a PhD in Educational Philosophy with a focus in instructional design. “Alternative nontraditional methods of instruction are my passion,” she says.
Dr. Kate, as her students address her, has taught at Audubon for 18 years, where she began as a middle school art teacher, later taking on the roll of technology coordinator. In 2008, when Audubon expanded and added the high school program, she went back to the art classroom. She started the credit recovery and attainment program and also coordinates the GED Option 2 program.

She graduated from Bay View High School in 1989 after attending 13 different grade schools in the U.S. and Canada. She and her husband Art Vannoy purchased their home in Bay View in 1995, where they raised three daughters.

Full Disclosure: Katherine Keller is a Hide House Community Garden volunteer.

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