“All students need to have success and recognition for their success if they are to develop a life-long love for learning.” —Carol Sun, Bronx artist and teacher
The day after Bowl for Kids, our Junior Council Co-Chair, Andrew Maxwell, rolled up the Bronx to observe a couple of very special lessons in Mrs. Cooper-Fall’s and Mr. Han’s third-grade classes. “Keep in mind,” he says, “this was a Friday afternoon following lunch, so you can imagine that the energy level amongst these kids was…pretty high.”
On the agenda for the day was a visit and drawing lesson by Bronx artist and teacher Carol Sun. “They have been looking at her art in the Bronx Museum,” explains Aurelio Del Muro, the museum’s Teaching Artist. Their lessons with Mr. Del Muro included not only observing and sketching Ms. Sun’s work, but also writing creative dialogues between this drawing and that. Mr. Del Muro also prepared students with a lesson on public art in their own neighborhood. By the time Ms. Sun appeared in their Friday classes, students already knew her as the famous artist responsible for “A Bronx Reflection,” the set of stained glass panels hanging in the 167th street subway station—just a few blocks north and east of P.S. 73.
Carol Sun, who currently teaches at the Bronx High School for the Visual Arts, calls the piece a “public valentine” for the neighborhood and for her father, who passed away in 2001. The fragments of colorful glass portray daily life in the borough—a steaming cup of coffee on a table, a white dog with a heart-shaped tag labeled “LB,” and a caterpillar developing through all its stages into a butterfly. It was that metamorphosis that would become the theme of the day at P.S. 73. “I told the students I saw them as caterpillars on their way to becoming butterflies,” says Ms. Sun.
Her lesson began with questions and answers about her own background, her life as an artist and teacher, her love for the Bronx. “She was able to relate her experience as a child in the Bronx to what they go through every day,” explains Andrew Maxwell. “They were really able to identify and connect with her, which made learning from her that much more exciting and accessible.”
Students also finally heard the full story behind the white dog in “A Bronx Reflection.” Ms. Sun’s own 8-year-old pup, rescued after being abandoned on a rooftop in Brooklyn, was the subject of a quick drawing lesson at the easel. Students passed around photographs of Ladybone as a puppy, and watched as Ms. Sun transformed basic shapes into something entirely new.
Then students were on their own to sketch Ladybone in their art journals, scattering around the colorful classrooms to apply what they’d just learned. But whether they were hunkered down at their desks or staring intently at Ms. Sun’s work at the easel, they were completely engrossed in the assignment. “I love it when you can hear a pin drop in the class and all the students are just mesmerized by their projects,” she says.
Ms. Sun is quick to note, though, that art classes are not solely about basic shapes and perspective. “More important,” she says, “they were able to take what they saw and use another language (drawing and words) to record what was significant to them and explore its meaning.”
For everyone here at CFK, her comments confirmed what we’ve suspected all along—that so-called “supplemental” programs are actually essential to helping students in school and in life. “All students need to have success and recognition for their success if they are to develop a life-long love for learning,” explains Ms. Sun. “If a student does not do well with academic subjects but can have success in their arts courses, they will still be able to have positive experiences at school and look forward to spending time at their studies.”
The day wrapped up with huge smiles and many, many student requests for autographs and hand shakes and hugs, all of which Ms. Sun generously granted. “This was literally the last class of the day,” says Andrew Maxwell. “I remember being in third grade—what it’s like on Friday at 2:30—but these kids were so enthralled. You could see how powerful an experience it was for them, and that was awesome.”
Ms. Sun concludes by talking about how lucky she feels to work as both an artist and teacher in the community she grew up in. “Here they were at 9 years young, still innocent and open, full of love. I become their teacher six years later when they are at the beginning of their adult lives, working hard to become someone. It made me feel a lot of love for the children of the Bronx.”
And we have a lot of love for anyone who can make learning such a meaningful and memorable experience.