We are just beginning the 4th year of the Choice Mosaic Program , a weekly drop-in class at Choice High School in Shelton, WA. This began as an outreach program for homeless teens and my position was funded by a grant from the McKinney-Vento Act. The program has been very successful, so the school has found funding to continue for yet another year, and we are no longer under pressure to serve only homeless youth.
In fact, Choice High School is a small alternative school that provides for students who don’t fit into a conventional school setting. Some students attend simply because they prefer a different model, but most are there because they face major life challenges. Our student body includes teen parents, LGBT teens, students with learning disabilities, many tribal members, kids with unstable family environments, ESL students, and teens with criminal records. When a student doesn’t fit into the traditional high school, or can’t attend because of circumstances, Choice offers an inclusive, holistic learning community to help them to graduate. My husband has been teaching at Choice since 2001, and I have the pleasure of being part of the staff now, if only one day per week, and teaching only the willing something they enjoy doing. They love art! And during my first year of the program, we saw the largest number of students graduate, and almost all of the seniors in my program graduated AND went on to college! That was a record, and we think there is a connection. My students became OBSESSED with doing mosaic, staying after school daily to work on projects, which meant they WENT to school and staff were able to connect with them to help them to work on meeting their goals.
In the spring of each year, we have participated in Olympia’s Arts Walk festival. The students show their work to hundreds of people, and get incredibly positive feedback. They sell their work, and keep all of the money (rather than giving it back to the program for supplies.) It has been a joy to see them take pride in their work and feel the satisfaction of selling it to happy customers.
We have also taken a field trip each year. The first year, we toured the Spectrum Glass Factory and Tacoma Art Museum, which they loved. Last spring, we visited SCRAP recycled art center in Portland, had lunch at The Kennedy School (which is full of mosaic and other art) and checked out some galleries. Also, I chaperoned the 2014 senior trip to Lincoln City where I took my mosaic graduates to meet artist Joanne Daschel. She showed us the cooperative art gallery she is part of and took us through an art center to see where a number of artists do their work. All of these trips were inspirational for this group of young people, and most would never have this kind of experience otherwise.
I hope to organize two field trips this year, but we have no budget for such things. I rely on the generous donations of people like Shelley Barnett of Off the Walls Gallery and The Peninsula Art Association, as well as colleagues from the Society of American Mosaic Artists, who made it possible for us to take our previous trips. I also received a grant from Encore Arts in 2014 that went toward a field trip and essential supplies.
Donations can be sent to
Attn.: Jennifer Kuhns / Choice High School, 807 W. Pine St., Shelton, WA 98584
*The thing we are most desperate for are substrates and tools. Students have used up all of the wood-shop scraps of plywood and we often use secondhand or dollar store frames with existing glass. We need tile installation boards like hardi, wedi, and even MDF, adhesives, grout, and buckets. And cash is king, allowing us to do things like eat lunch on a field trip, and to buy sponges or replacement tips for glass scorers, as needed.
For more updates and photos of Art Zone mosaics made by my students, see our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CHOICEmosaic
Also, if you are interested in a commission by a graduate or current student, get in touch. Most are eager for the opportunity to create custom projects.
Also, many thanks to Off the Walls Gallery and Gallery Grrls in Shelton, and participants at the Shelton Artist Garage Sale for your support!