Maryville kids embrace "dot system" art project
Students at Maryville Academy's Jen School in Des Plaines attended a rare painting workshop last week, held underwater, so to speak.
The students never left the campus, but instead focused on ocean life in creating their paintings.
They worked with acclaimed artist Ron Steven, from Vancouver, to design unique renderings of marine life -- from stingrays and sharks, to swordfish and turtles -- all using the dot system.
Their finished paintings will go further than the school bulletin boards. They are appearing as part of the "Our World Underwater" dive and scuba show running through Sunday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.
All pieces will be auctioned off as a fundraiser for Maryville's Jen School, which opened three years ago and offers adolescent boys therapeutic and educational services in a residential setting. Currently, nearly 60 teenage boys live on the campus.
"Making the dots forces you to slow down, and yet it keeps students going," says Steven, who drew the art concept from working with Aboriginal people in Australia.
"It takes a lot of work, and you cannot rush it. But the outcome gives them a great sense of accomplishment."
To protect their privacy, Maryville released only the students' first names.
Aaron, 17, chose a barracuda, "because they eat other fish." He ended up having so much fun he didn't want to stop, and once he finished the barracuda, he set out to create the underwater sea plants to complete his seascape.
Steven met with boys from Maryville's St. George program -- one of four tracks at the school -- who have developmental disabilities and some forms of mental illness.
Their teachers use a relational style of teaching that emphasizes building relationships while fostering a sense of accomplishment and a desire to learn more.
During the school day, they cover the traditional core subjects as well as physical education and vocational training. But the focus remains on enhancing learning.
"It's an experiential-based curriculum," says Principal Anne Craig, "offering projects like this."
She admits she was somewhat skeptical at first, thinking the dot system might be too childlike for her teenage boys, but she was pleasantly surprised at their interest.
"You could just see how much of their personality comes through in their work," Craig added.
One of the teachers, Pam Kouris, is a scuba diver on the side, who thought her students might enjoy learning more about ocean life. Weeks before their guest artist arrived, they researched different sea creatures on the Internet.
"The boys enjoy making the art work, but it goes beyond that," Kouris says. "They're learning about environmental causes and about life underwater. And maybe they'll be more aware of things they haven't seen before."