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PreK Students Lead Efforts to Create All-school Chihuly-inspired Sculpture
Rachel Freeman, communications & website manager

It has been preK teacher Claire Wasserman-Rogers’s dream since she began at Nueva six years ago to have her students collaborate with upper school students. So when her students were in the process of creating a Dale Chihuly-inspired sculpture, and Ian J. posed the question, “What if the whole school made a piece of the art?” Claire knew this goal was going to finally come to fruition. 

The project was inspired by a visit she took to Seattle’s Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. Even as she marveled at the vibrancy of the intricate sculpture pieces by three-dimensional artist Dale Chihuly, she began noting what she wanted to bring back to share with her class.

“We talk a lot about art in pre-kindergarten,” Claire said. “The Reggio Emilio approach—which we use in preK—teaches students about the many different languages children can use to express themselves. We talk about how drawings and clay sculptures and music and dance are all forms of expression. So when I saw the Chihuly exhibit, I thought, ‘We’ve never worked with glass before; how can we think of it as another medium?’” 

After an introduction to Dale Chihuly and his artwork, the class talked about what glass is, how artists bend glass and make it malleable, and they did structured word inquiries for a number of relevant words—malleable, shatter, transparency, sculpture—to better understand how the roots of the words relate to their meanings. 

When it came time to imagine their own class sculpture, students used transparency paper to mimic the effects of glass and create patterns and designs for their pieces. 

That’s what Ian asked his question and the idea took off. Ivan G. replied by saying, “We could connect them all together so it will be longer than the preK class…we should go all the way to the high school.”

Which is exactly what they did—go all the way to the upper school campus. Claire worked with upper school English teacher Alexa Hart to make this idea a reality with her 12th grade class. On Friday, May 13, preK students loaded into two vans and drove to the San Mateo campus, most for their first time ever. The excitement from both the youngest and oldest Nueva students was palpable as students gathered together at the third floor succulent garden. PreK students showed their 12th grade partners how to create a pattern on the transparency paper and together they created pieces of the sculpture. 

It was clear to Claire and Alexa that this collaboration became about much more than just this sculpture. 

“It was more than Chilhuly,” Claire said. “Students had such excitement about collaborating with others in their own school they didn’t know before. They talked about looking forward to being in high school and commented about how special it will be when they are the seniors’ age and can look back on these photos of their first time on the San Mateo campus. Often preK is in its own bubble, so that was the extra special part.”

Seniors also took much from the experience. 

“There was this calmness and sweetness the 12th graders had,” said Alexa, who is also the parent of a preK student. “I also think the seniors have a new-found respect for preK teachers and parents of young children; they were surprised by the level of energy the preK students had as they burst out of the vans. What I loved about this partnership was that the younger students were the leaders of the activity. Our seniors are on the precipice of adulthood and having 5-year-olds lead them through a design project was, for many of them, a humbling and meaningful experience.” 

“It was a great experience,” said senior Yahli E. “I could tell that they really looked up to us, and they were really excited to not only work with us but also show us what they have been working on—they shared books they had written about their families with us. It was fun for me, and I think it was a good time for them, too.”

Alexa has heard from many parents of preK students about the impact the visit has had on their children.

“As a parent, I can say that the preK students cannot stop talking about being at the upper school and were in awe of how big the 12th graders are.”

The final sculpture is currently being assembled by the preK class and Claire invited art teacher Reenie Cherrie’s middle school students to participate as well. Students are eager to hang up the sculpture in a place that is high up, well-lit, and visible so everyone can see the colors and shadows that it creates.

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