Wednesday Journal has been profiling some of the programs on the reduction list leading up to the vote. This week focuses on arts.

Sadie Coffman seems to have a laser-like focus as she holds a green marker in one hand and a tiny piece of wood in the other.

The 12-year-old is carefully scribbling on the tip of wood—she’s done four or five tiny pieces already. And as she’s doing this, she doesn’t seem to be at all distracted by her teacher who’s talking to other students—fellow after school arts club members—or the sounds of The Doors playing on a CD in the background. Coffman actually chose the song, Light My Fire, by the 1960s rock group, her teacher, Todd Leban said.

The seventh-grader is a pretty gifted artist, according to her art teacher at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School. She and other club members on this afternoon are sculpting guitars out of blocks of wood. They’re all roughly the same size and shape—a little over a foot long—but they are different types of guitars. Coffman’s is a rock-style guitar she’s painted silver. The little pieces of green-tipped wood are meant to represent the turning keys used to tighten and tune the strings.

The club meets four times throughout the school year in Leban’s third-floor classroom.

Leban has taught at Brooks, 325 S. Kenilworth Ave., for 9 years. His applied arts class is for seventh-graders but the arts club is open to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.

His class has about 25 students, roughly the same amount kids for other art classes taught at Brooks. If the District 97 referendum fails on April 5, the district has announced plans to eliminate all art classes across the district for the fall term.

Kristiana Murray, who’s taught art for six years in the district at both Brooks and Percy Julian Middle School, says she sees about 200 kids throughout the school year while teaching six classes. Another art teacher instructs at both middle schools, splitting time during the day. She and Leban, both tenured teachers in the district, are among four art instructors who have received reduction in force notices from the district. A total of 50 teachers across all subjects in the district have received pink slips.

If the referendum does fail, Murray said there’s been talk of having one teacher in each middle school teaching art. Among the sections she teaches is art culture, where the students learn about and make art from different cultures. India was one of their projects this school year. Her fine arts class focuses on specific elements of art as well as the history of the subject.

Murray’s students have made wood carvings and knitting, and have made decorative masks using a variety of items. On a desk are dozens of masks made by her students, many very elaborate. Across the hall is Leban’s classroom, but it’s not your typical woodshop class, he explains.

His students do use drills and saws for some of their projects.

“It’s basically built out of sculptural and functional objects,” Leban says of the class. “For a lot of the students that I have, it’s one of the brightest spots of their day. Part of the learning comes from actually doing.”

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