I am writing to let you know that Laura Jones, our art teacher of 23 years, will retire at the end of this school year. Her letter is below, but I absolutely have to share some thoughts with you first. As most of you probably know, Laura is the last teacher currently at Hyla who was here when the school opened. For me that means my memories of Hyla have threads of Laura and her art program inseparably and consistently woven through them.
Field trips – it is like an addiction with her; I don’t think she can really get enough of them, and they spring from her constant urge to throw open doors for her students to access the outside world, to expand their boundaries and introduce them to the variety and creativity that art and the world can provide. It is not really too surprising that I am writing this on a day when Laura and Kim took the whole 8th grade to Seattle to see a theater production of Raisin in the Sun.
Interdisciplinary connections – through all the years, Laura has been the teacher most energized about linking to other subjects. She can be devoted to using art to amplify and deepen a project like the archaeology unit in history class, or she can draw another subject in to art as an inspiration, as when she used microscopic images from science to fuel a collage art project. As she says in her letter, she loves the new discoveries and learning that these give her, and the energy she both gives and receives is marvelous.
Art with a purpose – Laura is drawn to art that infuses a bigger project with depth and individuality. Re-creating the art room itself every year with the 8th grade is the biggest of these efforts, but from having students create visual representations of the articles of the Declaration of Human Rights to personalizing their “Books of Life” for a long-ago English course, Laura has always enjoyed infusing art into projects that have a purpose. She continuously creates opportunities for students to express themselves, to be creative, and to show themselves as individuals.
Caring for people – Laura thinks a lot about the adults and students around her, and was the core of the faculty “Sunshine Committee” for years, recognizing birthdays and creating pleasant surprises for each of us. In her last year with us, she is reprising that role, in fact. From student dances, to faculty book sharing, to encouraging students to perform music at morning meetings, Laura likes to create opportunities for people to enjoy, appreciate, and give to each other.
Embracing new directions – Even in the last few years, Laura has continued to be intrigued by new possibilities, from Democratic Classroom initiatives to the Global Connections class. Her energy is impressive, and very much dedicated to this school and to attending to the whole child. And if new directions can in any way open the broader world to her students, she is invested from the very beginning.
For someone who has given so much to all aspects of the school for so long, it is a pleasure to celebrate who she is and what she has done, and I hope that in her retirement she can continue to explore new horizons, discover and learn new things, and enjoy and enrich the people around her, just as she has always done at Hyla.
Interim Head of School
Laura’s letter to the Community
Dear Hyla Families,
Twenty-three years ago this fall, Paul Carroll and Kelly Webster (founding Head of Island School) interviewed me for the art position at Hyla. We sat together at a small round table in what was Hyla’s 6th grade classroom at the rented office space on Erickson Avenue. We discussed teaching art to middle school students and my work as a teaching artist. One of the key questions that Paul asked me that day centered on why I was passionate about teaching in general. My answer was simple: “Because I love being a student!” Twenty-three years later, as I enter my final year of teaching at Hyla and prepare to retire in June, my response is only slightly more complex: “I am passionate about teaching because I have always been challenged and inspired by my students and colleagues to explore and learn.”
Little did I know when I entered the 6th graders’ classroom as their art teacher in January of 1994 the depth of the education that teaching at Hyla would provide. Having the opportunity to mature and learn with my students has been joyous, at times painful, occasionally confusing, and always in the end, rewarding. Collaborating with my colleagues has consistently taught me new concepts and ways of seeing our students, teaching, and the world within and beyond our beautiful community.
As a teacher, I am continuously grateful for the freedom I have been given to encourage and inspire students to paint the walls, create artifacts to be buried and excavated, walk with me across the Golden Gate Bridge, speak with an Imam at a Seattle mosque, play music in class, and find the path to create a global education class at Hyla. As an artist and a lover of travel, I could never adequately express the appreciation I will always feel for the sabbatical that allowed me to live and study art in Paris. As the parent of a former Hyla student, I am thankful for the teachers that nurtured and inspired my child. As a resident of Bainbridge Island, I am always excited to share our lively and beautiful campus. As a member of this community, I love meeting parents of alumnae at Town & Country, hearing stories about their children and how important Hyla was to their families. And finally, as a retired teacher, I hope and expect to hear how Hyla is continuing to flourish and grow.
This past summer, knowing that I would be retiring at the end of this year, I began the process of cleaning up and creating space for someone new to take possession of the art room in September 2017. I had the pleasure of wading through reminders of so many students, their artwork, their stories, their laughter and the shared moments that I will always keep with me. Those days spent tidying up were also physically tiring reminders about why 65 is a lovely age to have more time in the garden, be able to travel in September with my husband, and spend time creating my own art again. I spent the summer looking forward to this final year of teaching and during the next nine months I intend to savor each ‘last’ moment. I am also excited to participate in whatever way I can to usher in a new era in art for Hyla. I am delighted to think of what someone new will bring to our students: a fresh set of art passions and ways of seeing.
Last weekend, I was taking my morning walk along Sunrise Drive and thinking about how to end this letter in some way that expresses all the gratitude I feel for the Hyla community. It was a grey and drizzly morning, and I must admit that the tears were making their way down my cheeks as I thought about closing a part of my life that has been so central to me. A few steps later I reached Fay Bainbridge Park just in time to see that a luminous double rainbow had filled the sky. Many of my students, past and present, might be amused that I am ending my letter with this particular image. For twenty-three years I have been encouraging students to find deeper ways to express their ideas and feelings than smiley faces, lightning bolts, and rainbows. Nevertheless, I will take this image with me as I move into retirement and I thank the entire Hyla community for giving me all the surprise and joy of a rainbow, again and again, through all these years!
With infinite gratitude,