For some of us, graduation day can seem like the fast-approaching gateway to a world of adult-type stress, pain, and failure. It may be of some comfort that we talked to Rob Seitz, who passed into that other world in 2005, and he’s very much alive and well.
Snapper: In a nutshell, what have you done since graduation?
Rob Seitz: Since graduating in December 2005 I have embarked on many adventures relating to my degree in Art Education as well as many side projects. Relating to my degree: I completed a year of AmeriCorps service in Tucson, Arizona, teaching art to adults with cognitive and physical disabilities and taught after-school programs at every public school (elementary through high school) in the School District of Lancaster. I’ve also taught art classes at the Youth Intervention Center in York and worked with the YWCA of Lancaster in their child-care program. I taught painting classes to adults and children at “Painting With a Twist” in Wayne, Pa. I’ve also worked as a substitute teacher in Lancaster City schools.
Outside of my so called “career path” I’ve volunteered as a music event coordinator for art galleries in Lancaster and Tucson, painted a mural on the ceiling of a bookstore/recording studio in York, and displayed and sold artwork in Lancaster City and Wayne, Pa. I have recorded and released two albums with Lancaster-based bands and acted in a local film “To Meet the Stranger,” which was filmed in Lancaster. I have participated in and organized many political actions and events, including Occupy Lancaster. Currently I live in Philadelphia and am the middle school art teacher at Hill Top Prep, a private school for students with learning disabilities. I also volunteer at Philly AIDS Thrift, which is a thrift store whose proceeds benefit the AIDS Fund.
Snapper: Wow. What are your thoughts on AmeriCorps? I’ve heard it can be tough, especially financially.
RS: I had an incredible time with AmeriCorps. I was working with a school called Arts For All in Tucson, Az. Their main project was a day program for adults with cognitive and physical disabilities. They also had a preschool program and summer camp that was a mix of “typical” kids and kids with disabilities. The training was very rigorous. I was part of a team of 12 AmeriCorps members. It was one of the most rewarding and challenging years of my career. I taught art classes and even had the freedom to invent my own classes, like sewing and fabric arts. The people I taught had Down’s Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and other diagnoses. Our director was extremely caring and knowledgeable. That said, she was also very demanding. She really held people accountable because we were working with a vulnerable population. The stipend was about $11,000 for the year plus a $4,000 education bonus for continuing education or student loans. Some people had a hard time because the stipend purposefully requires you to live at the poverty line. I was able to find cheap rent, I didn’t own a car, and was very resourceful.
The most important thing I took away from my AmeriCorps experience is that it really pays off to take risks. I had to push past fear of failure and assert myself. I had to be willing to make mistakes and trust new people.
Snapper: So I guess this is old news but lately art education has been in peril, and art teachers might be feeling defensive or like they have to prove that art class is important. What would you say about the importance of art in kids’/individuals’ lives and having a place for it in the community?
RS: That is a very important question. There are two answers I have up my sleeve for when that question comes up in interviews. The first revolves around how the arts enhances education. Many studies have shown that integrating art into the curriculum supports students’ cognitive and social development, as well as critical thinking skills. By studying a student’s artwork, we can get visual clues as to their development. Also when academic subjects integrate art into the lesson plan it helps students find concrete connections that otherwise may have seemed too abstract. I currently collaborate with the history, science, and literature teachers at Hill Top to build cross-curricular, art-infused lessons. Arts education is especially important in reaching students who have a language barrier due to learning disabilities or learning English as a second language.
The second answer revolves around teaching art for art’s sake. Children love to make art. (Their initial enthusiasm is often curbed, ironically, in school, when art lessons become too rigid and their personal expression is judged.) Art is a cornerstone of human civilization, personal expression, and cultural identity. Making art is therapeutic and viewing or discussing art creates literate citizens. There are also thousands if not tens of thousands of careers that either directly involve being an artist or involve other visual, creative, and manufacturing skills. Art brings people together. It is a tool for reaching and teaching people. It records history without the language barrier. It is so much more than a way to boost standardized test scores!
Snapper: Could you talk about your current job a bit more? What is one example of a time when you’ve collaborated with teachers in other subjects to make a lesson plan?
RS: Currently I am teaching a lesson plan in conjunction with the 7th grade Ancient Civilizations course. The main theme of that course is how the environment affects culture. For instance, the natural resources, geography, climate, and other variables affect the art, religion, politics, and structure of the society. My lesson plan ties into this by teaching students how to make paper from scrap materials that they found in their immediate surroundings. First we looked at paper from around the world and they had to guess how it was made. For example, rice paper from Asia is white and almost transparent, whereas papyrus from Egypt is light brown and you can actually see the woven fibers. We used newspapers, construction paper, tissue paper, yarn, gum wrappers, leaves, dried grass, seeds, and anything they could find. I also like to teach them how to use their critical thinking skills. So instead of teaching the steps to make paper I first showed them a Mr. Rogers episode about an industrial paper making factory. Then I put out all the necessary supplies (blender, screens, plastic bins) and let them guess how it was made. As a group they were able to see how our minimal tools corresponded to the large machines and they discovered the right steps in the proper order. They made some great sturdy paper. The last step is for them to create pictographs and symbols that represent their personality and paint them onto their own handmade paper.
Snapper: What do you feel you gained from being in college that benefited you in your professional life/adult life?
RS: There was a lot of practical knowledge I gained in the art and art education classes. So many professors influenced me through their expertise and challenging curriculums. But beside the actual “how-to” knowledge, the biggest thing I learned was how to take risks. This is true academically and socially. The university setting is a perfect opportunity for this. There is a wealth of resources—whether it be the professors, the library, social clubs, or complete strangers. A few examples of risk-taking from my history at Millersville include signing up to be a radio DJ on WIXQ my first year even though I was completely nervous to try it, publishing a few comics called “Soup,” and doing a few live music reviews for the Snapper. I attended meetings of the political action club “Jesters” and made lifelong friends while having my assumptions about the world turned upside-down.
I am the type of person who daydreams about all the amazing things I’d like to do. There is a fear that comes along with attempting these things. There is always hard work and failure is always a possibility. I still struggle with taking the first step but I still find myself in some pretty amazing and fulfilling situations that at one time seemed unattainable but wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t take some risk or accept some challenge. College is a perfect time to start practicing this.
Snapper: Is there anything else you would say to current students?
RS: The only thing I’d like to add is that I encourage students to see the counselors that are on campus. Towards the end of my senior year I was very stressed out and overwhelmed with my workload, plans for what to do after college, relationships, and more. I remember feeling lost and crying in the parking lot on my way to class. I signed up to see a counselor but when the time came for the appointment I chickened out. I’m sure it would have been very helpful and I regret not using that resource more often.