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Grant rewards Kiski Area art teacher

| Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Spurred by a lack of available art education for Kiski Area eighth-grade students, teacher Connie Blair went to work.

She marshaled grants. She volunteered her time.

The result was the eighth-grade Honors Art Club at Kiski Area Intermediate School, formed in 1998.

Today, Blair is being named the 2001 Roy A. Hunt Foundation Awardee for excellence in teaching, mainly for her efforts in forming this after school art program for eighth-graders.

The prize is a $3,000 grant - which she'll use to keep the art club going - and 225 free student passes to Clayton, the historic residence of Henry Clay Frick. The Frick Art and Historical Center in Pittsburgh will present the $3,000 grant, which has been given to a Pittsburgh area teacher the past three years.

Blair has taught art for 26 years in Kiski Area School District, the last four as the intermediate school's seventh-grade art teacher. She capitalized on her love of art education to build the art club idea.

As Kiski Area's curriculum is written, seventh-grade is the last time a student must take art, Blair said. Once students get to high school, they can take art as an elective.

Because eighth-grade is a pivotal year in childhood development, Blair was worried that artistically gifted students might lose a chance to develop their talents.

Hence, the Honors Art Club.

It's sort of an elite club for artistically curious students. Being a member requires work and commitment, but the payoffs have been fantastic.

This year alone, the club's 32 students have been on almost a dozen hands-on field trips to art nerve centers in western Pennsylvania, such as the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh and the Brew House artists' residence on Pittsburgh's South Side.

Professional artists have visited the classroom through the club to explain techniques in polymer clay and how to achieve exact color shades when painting.

Some might be intimidated by the club requirements. Blair prefers club members to have earned straight A's in seventh-grade art. Also, students must come to the art room at least once a week to make art. And if they forget a sketch book or miss a club meeting, they get demerits.

Those didn't seem to bother club members Tuesday. Taking a break, art club members buzzed with excitement about Blair's achievement. They looked forward to a club trip to Chicago in June and recalled highlights of the year.

'When most people think of a field trip, they think of a trip with chaperones,' said Katie Gallagher, 13, of Washington Township. 'Us, on the other hand, we went to actual workshops.'

One favorite excursion was a guided walking tour of Pittsburgh's architecture, sponsored by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. In one assignment, a tour guide gave club members several photos of spooky gargoyles and told them to spot the stone beasts on the buildings.

Old-school architects used gargoyles and 'grotesques' such as lions for drainage systems or for symbols of strength, said Justin Swank, 13, of Oklahoma.

'These people took the time to build it, to sculpt it,' Swank said. 'It was really amazing.'

To keep the club financially afloat, Blair has applied for and received grants from the Warhol and Carnegie museums and the Grable Foundation. The students also sell pies and design greeting cards for sale.

Because of grants and fund-raisers, the students usually don't have to pay for anything except lunches on after-school trips to museum workshops.

Cybil Wasilowski, a consumer sciences teacher, co-sponsors the art club.

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