One might think that after teaching art at Mounds Park Academy since the school's opening in the fall of 1982, Karen Rossbach would be content to rest on her laurels, content with a curriculum that is established and well-rehearsed. In truth, as her own artistic passions expand, she is constantly retooling her classes in order to pass along new knowledge to her students K–12.
"Learning new things and exploring new ideas is exciting for an artistic person because that is creativity in a nutshell. That's why we teach art, because it allows us to continue to change, grow, and be creative," she said. Her most recent advance is the addition of a digital art class, Digital Mediums, that combines students' inherent and learned creativity with technology in new and exciting ways. After continuing professional development through the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Karen was ready to share her newfound knowledge with her students.
"Part of the reason I wanted to teach this class is because I get to keep learning. There are things the kids know that I don't know, and that's a vulnerable position to be in as a teacher. In some ways, I am catching up, but in some ways I have knowledge that they don't have because of how I use technology and the perspective I bring to the conversation," Karen shared.
Digital Mediums allows students who are digitally inclined to integrate art techniques and graphic software in order to create art in ways that fit with MPA's technology goals, advancing their creativity, knowledge, and work in other courses. "They are using these skills on projects in ways I never imagined. They now have more options available to them for an English project, for example, as they know how to utilize other mediums to express their knowledge. I see their confidence as makers continue to expand."
The collegiality among our exceptional faculty and the passion they have for this school are as alive today as they were in 1982.
Making cross-curricular connections is easy for Karen. "I have always seen art as integral to other subject areas—it's another medium in terms of expression. In this case, because it is digital, we are able to combine subjects very easily. Students working on tessellations in math can bring one into the painting program to enhance it or into an animation program to animate it. In life, that's what students need to know how to do. They need to make connections using the breadth of their knowledge."
One of her favorite cross-curricular examples in Lower School is the Parade of States project, a collaboration between homeroom, technology, library, visual art, and music faculty. Assigned a state, each student researches, writes, performs, and curates an exhibit as they share their state with classmates and guests. Learning is not confined to one classroom, but rather expansive because of this intense, intentional collaboration of subjects.
"I find that the students who have the most difficulty with the linear aspects of learning come to my class and have the most success. I love that the commitment to teaching the whole child, since the earliest days, has remained of utmost importance here at MPA. Each child can find a place to be successful because we offer each child a place to shine," Karen shared.
Helping our community understand how true MPA is to its founding principles is important to our school's history as well as to founding faculty members like Karen.
"We met all summer long, here in the backyard of the school, by the library. None of us knew if we would have a job in the fall, but we all had passion for this school. We opened our doors to 104 students. I believed in the school's philosophy then and I believe in it today. How we work with each other, what we do with kids, and the freedoms we have to be creative … all of that has kept me here."
Students benefit every day from the passion, knowledge, and creativity Karen continues to expand here at MPA.