Posts Tagged ‘Leah Olson’


MALI Mega Ellsworth

November 22, 2016

Wonderful learning

img_4488The first Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Regional conference took place yesterday at Ellsworth High School. The participants were appreciative of the opportunity, not just to attend and learn in the formal sessions, but to have the chance to network with other arts educators.

Each participant attended two sessions in the morning from the following selection:

  • img_4412

    Illustrating to Write session

    Where are your Art Standards within the Studio Habits of Mind! with Jane Snider, Hancock Grammar School

  • Ellsworth High School VPA Academy  with Rebecca Wright, Leah Olson, Shannon Westphal, Ellsworth High School
  • More Cowbell with Tim Hart, MLTI
  • Illustrating to Write with Ann Marie Quirion Hutton, MLTI
  • Bringing it All Together with Sue Barre, Waterville High School
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    Evidence of Learning Through Google

    Evidence of Learning Through Google with Charlie Johnson, Mount Desert Island High School

  • Visual Notetaking/Doodling in Class with Ann Marie Quirion Hutton, MLTI
  • Making 8-bit Art with Tim Hart, MLTI


A great big thanks to all of the MALI Teacher Leaders and MLTI session presenters. Without your willingness, commitment, and leadership we wouldn’t be able to have the Mega conferences.

Thank you to the Ellsworth High School VPA boosters club who provided lunch – it was all mmmmmmm!

Director of the Maine Arts Commission Julie Richard joined us in the afternoon. Teaching artist and dancer Nancy Salmon led us movement that got us ready for the afternoon. Beth Lambert from the Maine Department of Education  joined me in providing foundational information on the statewide arts education census that was conducted during the 2015-16 school year.

The day ended with some great door prizes. Thanks to those who contributed. The next MALI Mega Regional conference takes place on Wednesday, January 4 at USM, Portland. Please CLICK HERE for information and registration.


MAC Executive Director Julie Richard

Teaching Artist and dancer Nancy Salmon

Teaching Artist and dancer Nancy Salmon

Participants moving with Nancy Salmon

Participants moving with Nancy Salmon

Ellsworth High School art teachers sharing a funny moment

Ellsworth High School art teachers sharing a funny moment

Participants at lunchtime

Participants at lunchtime

Sue Barre presenting Bringing it all Together, her assessment system

Sue Barre presenting Bringing it all Together, her assessment system

Participants sharing lunchtime

Participants at lunchtime

Discussing the census information

Discussing the census information

More Cowbell session

More Cowbell session



Hampden Academy’s Bronco

October 3, 2012

Community Artist: Forest Hart

The following update is from art educator Leah Olson who had submitted photos in the spring that I posted about the sculpture being created for the new Hampden Academy. Students and teachers have just moved in to the new school, and so has the bronco.

Today I received a gift that has surpassed my expectations of what the arts can do for a community. Forest Hart never stops giving. He presented 32” x 20” framed and matted picture mosaic of the process to David Greenier (then vice principal), Ruey Yehle (principal), and myself. I couldn’t help but feel the tears coming on!  In one of the pictures, my son and I are putting clay on the sculpture. 

Emil Genest, Assistant Superintendent, David Greenier, 45 year Assistant Principal who just retired, Forest Hart, Leah Olson, and Ruey Yehle, Principal

Forest Hart –  “Known as “Toby” to old friends — moved to Hampden with his family in 1948 when he was five years old. Artistry was always a part of Hart’s motivation as a taxidermist. His animals display the spirit and authenticity of living creatures, and his unique work has won awards in competitions all over the country. Given his drive and his innate creativity, the progression to casting animals in bronze was, perhaps, inevitable. Now his bronzes are winning accolades far and wide.”  About the Bronco – “It also led to an unparalleled gift of time, beauty, education and history for the town in Maine where he grew up.” – Robin Wood – Bangor Daily News

“We are absolutely thrilled about this,” Hampden Academy principal Ruey Yehle said as she helped push clay onto the horse frame. “They will take ownership of this bronco and they’ll take a lot of pride in it.”  Mrs. Yehle went several Saturday’s with students to work on the sculpture. She has worked tirelessly for this school system so that students have a high quality education in every way possible. Excellence in the small details consistently makes for excellence overall. Hampden Academy has two “state of the art” art rooms now! While in the planning stages Mrs. Yehle asked many questions to art teachers, furniture people, and architects as to what would work best for a student experiencing a successful studio art room.

The power of the arts lives strong here in this community. What is even more remarkable is that Forest Hart did not charge the school the money that it cost to create the large bronze bronco. It is a gift from the Hart’s. The idea is that by selling the smaller table top broncos the cost of the full-sized monument will be covered. “What if you don’t sell enough to pay for the job?” he was asked.
“That thought never entered my mind,” Hart remembers saying. “But I told them, ‘that’s my responsibility, not yours.’”

I am inclined to think that not just the alumni and residents of Hampden would purchase this magnificent tabletop sculpture – but anyone, anywhere who believes in the power of the arts symbolized in a running bronco. It connects us and reaches us in ways that cannot be said. This gift teaches us that through making small differences in our lives can have large effects. I have personally learned this year that the ability and willingness to surrender to unanticipated possibilities can bring opportunities, inspiration and an unprecedented pride about education for students…..priceless.


Another Arts Teachers’ Story: Leah Olson

June 19, 2012

Featuring one teacher’s journey as an educator

This is the 14th in a series of blog posts telling arts teachers’ stories. This series contains a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to read educators stories and to learn from others.

Leah Olson is has taught visual art for 16 years. Currently, she teaches five classes of visual art at Hampden Academy. This is her first year teaching high school and has about 100 students per semester. Her teaching assignment includes Art 1 and 2, Sculpture 1 and 2, Drawing and Painting and Advanced Art. She will be teaching a new course of Jewelry and Ceramics in the fall.

What do you like best about being a visual art educator?

Teaching art is like being able to assist people in self discovery. I love watching students learn in the creative process. This job allows me to have a degree of autonomy that allows me to make daily and long term decisions that will bring the best experience for the student.  I feel like an artist when I teach!

Tell me what you think are three keys to ANY successful arts ed program?

  1. Educate yourself about art education daily, weekly, etc., in whatever means possible.
  2. Be a clear communicator. Write about “art happenings” in school newsletters/emails. Schedule time to communicate with your colleagues about curriculum, assessment and make goals. Collaborate with colleagues other than in your content area because students get more out of it when they know others are on the bandwagon.
  3. Be involved with community arts events because public relations is crucial on so many levels.

What specific way(s) do your assessment practices tie into the success of your program?

  • Collaboration is key. My colleague, Bethany Hanson, has been a crucial part of ongoing improvements that correlate with Hampden Academy’s emphasis on curriculum development. She and I work together to develop quality assessments that will help our students meet the standards in the visual arts before students graduate.
  • Backward Planning – for example: Showing student work examples of the projects before students start a unit. Having a discussion about what quality work looks like is important to see before giving students the steps required to achieve and learn.
  • Checklists – Students use them to gauge their time, process and quality of work to meet and/or surpass the expectations. We all use checklists in our life for many different things. It holds us accountable for what we do. And don’t you feel good when you cross those things off your list?

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?

Arts teachers are very professionally isolated in school districts. Professional development is scarce, schedule is tight, and funds are not available.  Through this initiative, people are developing ways of communication through technology that can help arts teachers access information that is relevant and helpful to their skill levels. I have learned a great deal from other teacher leaders.  It has also been refreshing to meet other arts teachers who love what they do and have much to share with others.

What are you most proud of in your career?

After 16 years, I still love my career!  Students never cease to inspire me.  Teachers shape our perspective about education and little of that changes as the years pass. I hope students leave my classes believing that learning about art is important, it is fun and it is important to support it in their community. I am proud to encourage global thinking, to work hard, and to teach that creativity is being in the process!  Teaching students how to enjoy problem solving can be a tough business!

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

Many people have mentioned time.  Thats # 1 for me too.  When you begin to not take the time to make something better, the less effective you become.  This is not only tough to do individually, but tough to teach others those various problem solving skills using the time effectively.  How can I help students find their “spark” in the creative process? That “spark” fuels the power of the arts.

Apple or PC?

This is my first year being totally Apple!  So far, so good!

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

This is my first year teaching art at Hampden Academy. I owe my accomplishments to having a positive outlook on things and that has pushed me forward towards my present career.  I don’t dwell on my failures – I try to learn from them.  The love of learning does appear to be “lucky” for me (and the self fulfilling prophecy thought pattern comes in handy…..).

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

  • “Oh Great Self Fulfilling Prophecy” = Thoughts – Words – Actions –  Habits – Character – Destiny
  • “Never underestimate the power of a small, dedicated group of people to change the world; indeed, that is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
  • My advice in general: Do the right thing when no one is looking.

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

Add to the college fund for my two children. Buy a house on the water with a BIG space for a studio. (OMG, that sounds so responsible.)

Leah’s resources:

Thank you for sharing your story Leah!


Hampden Academy Bronco

May 24, 2012

Galloping bronze

On Friday, May 18, 2012, the Bangor Daily published an article on the new Hampden Academy Bronco that is being created for the high school scheduled to open for students in September. Artist and Hampden Academy graduate, Forest Hart has created a wonderful opportunity and gift for the students and community.

Thank you to Art teacher (and arts assessment teacher leader) Leah Olson for sending this post that includes the experience that students and staff had throughout the process of creating the bronco.

“A great teacher never strives to explain his vision. He simply invites you to stand beside him and see for yourself.” (Raymond Inmon)
It was with mixed emotions that we completed our last visit to work on the New Academy Bronco sculpture on Saturday, May 12. It has been a wonderful experience for faculty and students. I organized and carried through many scheduled trips which were attended by various faculty and administration. As a first year Hampden Academy Art teacher, I see very clearly that the loyalty of alumni is strong. I feel very fortunate to be a part of Hampden Academy’s past, present and future! It is an experience that will always bring a sense of pride in what our mascot is about! My interpretation:

Freedom of expression – Freedom to be lifelong learners – Freedom to take education that is offered and go for it!

May 5

The work we did on Saturday, May 5th, consisted of placing shims (pieces of metal) along the seams of the sculpture that are used to separate parts of the plaster mold. We also worked on making “birds nests” from hemp that is like hay to hold the plaster mold.

The Master Mold – Getting ready for bronze –  A mold is a container used to shape material. The clay bronco was divided into multiple sections by inserting thin flat metal strips (shims), on end, into the surface of the soft clay. Next a rubber material was brushed onto each side of the dividers. The rubber flows and forms into every detail of the sculpture. Several coats are applied, being careful not to completely cover the metal shims. The shims keep the rubber sides from sticking together. After the rubber has dried, wet plaster (with the hemp “nests” we just made) will be put on top of the rubber. The plaster will  harden to form a casing around the flexible rubber to maintain its shape once the clay is removed. When the plaster has hardened, the mold is opened at the shims dividing the sculpture. The clay bronco is removed. It will leave two halves which when joined back together form a container/cavity in the shape of the bronco that will be used to pour liquid bronze in.  

May 12

When we arrived at the studio, the Bronco was completely encased with a white rubber coating.  Quite a shock as I was used to seeing the gray clay.  The goal of the 24 hour day was to get the sculpture completely covered with plaster.  The studio was set up for beginning the process of adding the plaster. Officer Stewart, James and I worked outside making “birds nests” from hemp that is used to create a strong plaster mold. Jacob worked with the other men adding the plaster to the Bronco. My son had the fortunate job of unwrapping the small bronze sculptures from the foundry that are sold in gallery spaces. He was also busy taking pictures with his IPad so he could document his experience. I think he took about a hundred pictures and then he learned about “editing”.

Once the Bronco is sent to the foundry in Colorado, it will take up to two months before it is returned. Not sure if the sculpture will be in place when school opens in the fall. So many factors in the final steps make it difficult to predict when the unveiling event will take place.


I have learned a great deal about sculpture and the importance of the arts in communities. Mr. and Mrs. Hart welcomed us into their studio space to be a part of something great. They understand that the sculpture experience is important to promote as education, advocacy for the arts, respect for nature and pride of community.  
From the bottom of our “H(e)arts” – THANK YOU!

Links below to other information about the sculpture and Mr. Hart.

Here is a link to the Hart’s website.

This link will take you to an impressive article written about him.

Hampden Academy Students Build a New Bronco –


One Teacher’s Voice

December 17, 2011

Standards Based Assessment in the Arts

Leah Olson, Hampden Academy Visual Art Educator

This post was written by Leah Olson, Hampden Academy Visual Art Educator and posted on her new blog called Maine Art Education 421 Skills. It is a reflection from the webinar she participated in as a teacher leader in the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative. The webinar was on Standards Based Assessment in the Arts. You can listen to the archive of the webinar by clicking here. If you have questions about the post please contact Leah at

Three webinar topics:

  1. Development within National Standards work
  2. Connection to Maine Learning Results
  3. Exploring Standards-Based Assessments in the Arts

The conversation revolved around three questions:

  1. What is good assessment?
  2. Why is this important?
  3.  Where can one find resources to help guide the process?

After hearing myself speak on this webinar…….I thought, “Is THAT what I sound like?!”. Anyway, here is a sample I wanted to communicate during the webinar that has worked for me in the past.

  • 1st Day -Students are given the goals of the lesson.  Students see the overall goal of a Maine Learning Result Standard in a lesson/unit and the objectives listed that help support it.
  • Students see previous student work from the same lesson.
  • Students point out the previous lesson work that resembles a 4,3,2 scale in skill.  They talk about the ‘evidence’ that supports their thoughts about a student work. Did they follow directions?  Did they demonstrate good craftsmanship?  Did they demonstrate unique ideas for the project? What work demonstrates that the student did not meet the standard and why?  What could they do to meet it?
  • Students are then given the project rubric.  When they see that the comments they made about previous student work is in writing, they feel a bit empowered.  I let them know they can add comments on the rubric that reflect their thoughts throughout the rubric.

I use checklists a lot along the way for students to check off for time management purposes and evidence of tracking work.

The rubric for a lesson should be clear to the student.  I’m not a fan of general rubrics that scale creativity in a general way.  In my opinion, it should say, “you have met the criteria of demonstrating creativity because you………..”.  How can we expect a student who is taking our art class to meet the standard when the goal and process of meeting it is so vague?

About Involving Student Centered Learning in the Assessment Process
There are many different ways teachers can include students in the process of assessment. I have always liked this quote:

“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
Nelson Mandela

Leading from behind has been a new philosophy I attempted about 3 years ago for a variety of reasons……but that’s another post someday.

Assessment gains the most strength when

  • there is ongoing discussion about the school district’s curriculum
  • the standards are guiding force of the curriculum
  • assessments are ongoing and changing but never loses sight of the previous two points.
  • students provide evidence that fits the above statements with self reflective comments
  • teachers give feedback to a student that gives him/her choices to improve their weaknesses and acknowledges strengths

The standard is in place, you teach from a curriculum, and then you have an assessment that provides accountability of the leadership from various view points – including from a student’s perspective.  Why involve a student in the assessment?  Too much work?  Not enough time?  In my experience, the investment of this wastes less time.  Less power struggles, less discipline issues, student motivation in projects increases and quality improves.

It also means I can educate parents more about what their son or daughter is learning.  It provides more knowledge for the parent to communicate with their child about learning new things.  It provides more critical thinking skills that would allow for more involvement in their child’s education. This is powerful. As a parent, I appreciate the standards based rank card because it educates me what my children are learning.

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