We’re celebrating Arts in Education Month and shining a spotlight on the talented and skilled creators, producers and performers in Ohio’s schools!

Play, invention and personal pursuits toward greatness

Arts in Education Month Profile: Cleveland Heights High School

Engineering, medical research, musical performance, city planning, political science…and art school. What’s the starting point for success in each of these areas of study? For Cleveland Heights High School Art Teacher Laura Skehan, it’s the critical thinking, creativity and willingness to take risks that are the catalysts to success and making discoveries.

“Art classes at Heights High prepare students to be curious, confident masters of their craft,” Skehan states. “Our students learn how to take a challenge and flip it on its head…that there is no single right answer and that you can take something and learn how to improve upon it. These are the skills of innovative leaders in any field.”

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Laura Skehan, Cleveland Heights High School Art Educator
Skehan, a 12-year educator, creates a classroom environment where students feel safe to explore, cultivate their passion and share their experiences, be it their artistic successes or otherwise.

“My biggest point of pride is seeing my [Advanced Placement] students take the lead in class critiques,” she shares. “Watching them confidently and thoughtfully give feedback to their peers is beyond inspiring and lets me know that they not only remember and understand the content…but can apply it to the creation and interpretation of their own work and the work of their peers.”

 

This confidence and rich understanding in a vast spectrum of artistic mediums has placed Heights students in professional art schools.

“The rigor, freedom and student-centered curriculum has greatly prepared my graduates who are currently in art schools across the country,” Skehan said.

Cleveland Heights High School graduates are studying visual art or art education at such institutions as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Cleveland Institute of Art, Columbus College of Art and Design, Kent State University and College for Creative Studies.

Success in such an array of fields has an interesting origin story. You likely have heard of Advanced Placement English Composition and Advanced Placement Calculus AB, but are you familiar with Advanced Placement Studio Art?

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Skehan and her students share a critique and discuss the pieces in an Advanced Placement Studio Art portfolio.

Among art classes, Advanced Placement Studio Art is different. While the rigors are the same, Studio Art also is different from other Advanced Placement courses. As a culmination of the art exploration and Studio Art I, II and III courses, students are empowered to investigate, explore and discover through mediums of their choosing over the course of the school year. A “sustained investigation,” as it is referred to in class, is a daunting endeavor. Students must prepare 15 works over the course of the year as part of their portfolios to present to the College Board to earn Advanced Placement credit.

Conceptual development and freedom are what drive students in the course. But a result of this freedom, as Skehan puts it, is the “joyful curiosity…and resilience” that positions students to always be on a path for growth.

These teaching principles are as complex as the students’ work, and that’s just how the course is designed. Mirroring the structure of art school—from ideation and process to pacing—students work through a self-propelled learning journey.

 

“Being able to self-motivate, work through challenges and rejections, continuing to develop concept and practice is central to the success of a professional visual artist.” Skehan shares. “It's amazing to see these skills embedded in our young high school students. Having gone to art school myself, I am amazed at the level of ownership that my AP students can take on as juniors and seniors in high school.”

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Cleveland Heights High School Advanced Placement Studio Art students prepare 15 pieces to present to the College Board.

Students are given the assignments, but Skehan ensures they are in the driver’s seat during their visual investigations. Student topics evolve, or even change, over the course of the school year as they learn from their own research and artistic discoveries. Topics have ranged from the illustration of German folktales, family heritage, nature versus man and the personification of the psyche.

“We have scheduled critiques every other week that allow students to share their progress,” she shares. “The camaraderie that develops within the community of AP art students is my greatest source of professional pride and satisfaction. The journey and sense of community formed over the course of the year is magical.”

“Our district is extremely committed to providing top-tier arts programming along with a variety of AP courses for students,” Superintendent Elizabeth Kirby said. “We are proud to offer a class that allows students to express themselves creatively while challenging themselves academically.”

Because the rigors of the course are great, Skehan has revamped the prerequisite courses to better prepare students interested in pursuing the Advanced Placement tract. From drawing, painting and print media, she is expanding the preparedness and artistic growth for more students. This focus on elevating and expanding advanced coursework permeates across the school district.

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The Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District is one of nine districts in Ohio to appear on the College Board’s Advanced Placement District Honor Roll.

Cleveland Heights High School offers 16 Advanced Placement courses, with subjects ranging from English and math to science, social studies, world languages and economics. This level of advanced coursework and increased student participation in Advanced Placement courses has earned the district national recognition.

“The CH-UH City School District recently was placed on the AP District Honor Roll, a title earned by districts that are successfully identifying students of all backgrounds who are prepared to take Advanced Placement courses,” Superintendent Kirby said. “Equitable access to classes such as AP Studio Art is a top priority for us, so we’re excited to say that work is being recognized."


Cleveland Heights-University Heights is one of 250 school districts in the United States and Canada, and one of nine in Ohio, to appear on the College Board’s Advanced Placement District Honor Roll. Since 2017, Cleveland Heights High School increased the number of students participating in Advanced Placement courses while also increasing or maintaining the percentage of students earning AP exam scores of 3 or higher.

Above all, students find their voices in Advanced Placement Studio Art. Their knowledge and experiences are what make each session unique and why the discussions and work continue to transform the class and each other.

“I am the resident expert, guide, touchstone and motivational coach but the real dialogue happens in spontaneous classroom critiques between peers and friends,” Skehan said. “I love seeing them encourage each other to keep going when they are frustrated, view a concept or work from a new perspective and try a new approach. They are truly the best teachers!”

Want to see more student work from the Cleveland Heights High School art studio? Follow Heights High Art on Instagram!

Last Modified: 3/8/2020 8:52:01 PM