MERCERVILLE — With much of area students’ time spent focusing their efforts on the math- and science-heavy standardized Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) these days, art programs, like that of Gallia County Local Schools, provide a welcomed balance — a creative outlet valuable to the enrichment of kids across the region.
For students at South Gallia High School, South Gallia Middle School and River Valley Middle School, that means spending a good deal of time with new art teacher, Kari Polcyn-LaBello. Angie Petrie is Polcyn-LaBello’s counterpart at River Valley High School.
Polcyn-LaBello was hired in June of 2012 and started work for Gallia County Local Schools in the fall. She is no stranger to Gallia County, however. Polcyn-LaBello was born in Chicago but was raised in Gallia County. She went to Kyger Creek High School and earned a bachelor of science degree in 2-D Visual Art from the University of Rio Grande. She has been a steady presence in art exhibits all over the Ohio Valley region — a body of work that includes sculpture, ceramics, photography, mixed media and a host of other mediums. After deciding to teach, she gained an Alternate Resident Licensure in k-12 Visual Art.
Polcyn-LaBello currently teaches five seventh grade classes, seven eighth grade classes and three high school classes with graduated levels 1-3, all in a staggered schedule throughout the week.
The middle school classes are comprehensive and designed to introduce students to basic artistic skill, while the high school classes are focused to provide more of a challenge in areas specifically of interest to students. Currently, SGHS students can choose from Digital Design, Ceramics and Mixed Media — or may take two of the three.
“In Digital Design, we have a photo shoot every two weeks. Then I do the backdrop and makeup, and students design the project in terms of effects and the digitization of photos in [Adobe] PhotoShop,” said Polcyn-LaBello. “Then they owe me a project a week later.”
In Polcyn-LaBello’s mixed media class, students are only limited by their own imaginations. The class has completed projects featuring books, boxes, chairs and paper castings. She said these paper molds have gone over exceptionally well with students.
“They got so excited when we pulled the first mold yesterday,” said Polcyn-Labello on Friday. “They were so excited to see the result of their work. That’s what I like about teaching — watching students experience that ‘aha’ moment.”
Ceramics students have been busy with everything from tea pots to sculpture to cultural art re-creation.
Polcyn-LaBello has been active in pooling resources to benefit Gallia County students. A pottery wheel was discovered in storage after Vinton Elementary’s art program, along with all K-6 art programs in the Gallia County Local School District, ended at the end of last year due to budget cuts. The school loaned the wheel to Polcyn-LaBello to support the county schools’ ceramics program. In addition, Resco, a clay foundry in Oak Hill, has repeatedly donated clay to the program completely free of charge.
Polcyn-LaBello is enjoying applying her long-time art experience in her home county — where she began her love affair with art by doodling during church — and in the same school district where she further developed her artistic roots. She said she wants to push her students to be their best.
“I give them a lot of college level assignments, things I never got to touch until college,” said Polcyn-LaBello. “I want to give them a little more than just the high school experience.”
Polcyn-LaBello said the countywide art show at the French Art Colony is on the horizon and will exhibit the best of 6-12 grade student work from March 8-March 31, with a public reception from 5-7 p.m. on opening night March 1. The best student work in a variety of mediums from grades 6-12 will be displayed in the show.
In the meantime, Polcyn-LaBello will continue to juggle a very busy schedule filled with students eager to benefit from her experience.
“I never wanted to do anything but art, but I had to find a way to make a living at it,” said Polcyn-LaBello. “Teaching allows me to continue to do what I love while hopefully encouraging the same love for art in my students.”