As 19-year-old Anthony Todaro looked at the photos diplayed on the walls of the Clarkstown North High School library earlier this week, his favorite was a brightly colored photo that had been altered by computer.
“The picture is like a neon bracelet in nighttime,” said Todaro, a student in the SPIRIT special needs program at Clarkstown South High School who is part of a group that has been working with art students at North High School.
Pariticpants in the Art Inclusion Project proudly showed their collaborations to fellow students, parents and administrators during a reception in North's library. The exhibit, themed “This is What We Love,” included three photographs and one poem from each of the student partnerships.
Eight Clarkstown South SPIRIT students and 10 Clarkstown North students collaborated on the poetry and photography displays. SPIRIT stands for Spirit, Preparation, Independence, Readiness, Inclusion, Transition.
Clarkstown North Art and Technology Department Chair Nancy Diamond, who coordinated the exhibit, said the project started with a workshop during the week of Valentine’s Day and “The question that week was what do you love?”
The students wrote their answers on hearts and took five photos of each other. Some were head and shoulders images, others included groups and in some photos students held hearts or favorite items. The following week they selected three photos and the Clarkstown North students showed their special needs partners how to use the Photoshop computer program. Diamond said the students really enjoyed using the "twirl" tool and changing their hair color in the photos.
Stevie Coopersmith, 15, worked with Maggie Andresen, 16, of Clarkstown North. “It was great. I had fun,” he said pointing to his photo with his hands on his hips.
Anthony Todaro worked with North students Adam Leon and Rachel Mitrani, both 17.
Leon explained everyone in the Arts Inclusion Program is a volunteer. The group meets every Tuesday after school at 3 p.m. at Clarkstown North. Mitrani said some of the North students are members of the Art Honor Society but different clubs run programs with the SPIRIT students.
Clarkstown school Superintendent Margaret Keller-Cogan and North High School Principal Harry Leonardatos attended the reception. The superintendent said this type of program serves as a bridge for bringing together the two high schools — which have a healthy rivalry.
After looking at everyone’s contributions, the students sat in a circle on the floor of the library and took turns reading their poems out loud to applause from their fellow students and parents. They shared the things they love – family, friends, brother, sister and spring. Diamond announced the next program will be a dance workshop with the dance team whose members will work with the SPIRIT students to interpret a poem and add dance moves.
Clarkstown North’s PTSA provided a funding through its Innovative Grant Program to cover the cost of enlarging the photos and the reception. PTSA president Rhea Vogel said, “This year the PTSA decided to give cultural arts grants to the schools. These kinds of programs are so nice because they connect different schools in the district.”
The SPIRIT Program is available at Felix Festa Middle School and Clarkstown High School South.
SPIRIT is designed to provide alternate academic programs and support for special needs students. At the high school level, the SPIRIT Program also provides vocational readiness preparation. These classes have a full academic program as well as assigments at various worksites.
SPIRIT worksites include Meals on Wheels in Nanuet, Toys R Us in Nanuet, the West Nyack Library, Palisades Center mall in West Nyack, the school district's Chestnut Grove Adimistrative Center in New City, a CVS store, the Dr. Robert L. Yeager County Health Health Complex in Pomaon, People to People in Nanuet and United Hospice of Rockland in New City.