Kyla Kaufman teaches art in a school known for math.
She teaches drawing and painting at John Marshall High School, which launched its specialty finance academy this school year. But even students who want to grow up to be bankers and investors need to express themselves, she said.
“The kids need an outlet,” Kaufman said. “It’s therapeutic for them. They’re not worried about everyday life.”
Six district high schools have career specialty academies, and another will be added next year. Eventually, every high school will offer an academy.
But even as the academy program expands, students still need a well-rounded experience, said Verna Martin, associate director of secondary schools.
“Middle and high school students have multiple interests,” Martin said. “Offering a variety of courses empowers the students to discover their strengths and interests.”
This year, 50 freshmen enrolled in the John Marshall finance academy, Principal Aspasia Carlson said. As they age and more grades are added, the program will expand.
The school also has plenty of students who aren’t in the finance academy; they live in the area and attend the regular high school program.
“We have students here who are artists and poets and songwriters,” Carlson said. “We have to be able to serve them, too.”
John Marshall has strong performing arts classes — drama, dance and music. Last year, art was considered a blowoff class. Kyla Kaufman was hired to take over the program and revamp it. She told the students she meant business.
“We had a big influx in and a big influx out,” Kaufman said.
This year, all students are in the same general art class, but next year, Kaufman plans to offer Art I and Art II. Eventually, she hopes to offer Advanced Placement Art.
Part of that process includes the addition of ceramics. She cobbled together grants to fund nearly $10,000 to launch the pottery program.
The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools gave $5,000 to buy a slab roller and other equipment.
The school district awarded Kaufman $2,600 for a kiln. Midtown Rotary and Rotary District 5750 bought more than $2,000 worth of equipment, including two potter’s wheels. Rotarians delivered the last donation pieces Thursday.
Without the community support, Kaufman said she wouldn’t have been able to buy everything she needed.
“There’s no way,” Kaufman said. “No way at all. It would have taken me years. There’s no way we could have done it without the support of the community.”
This spring, she’ll give all the pottery materials a test run with the art club after school Wednesdays. Students are already peeking into her classroom to see the new tools, she said.
Excitement about the arts — even at a school that has a specialty finance program — is good for students, said Carlson, the principal.
“The focus right now is on technology, getting kids reading for college and career,” Carlson said. “By the same token, we don’t want to forget about the importance of creativity. There’s something to be said for hands-on creation.”