For one morning, the basement of the Church of St. James the Less became a print shop. Four Temple graduate students helped 15 seventh graders put their hopes and dreams on paper, in the form of two-color, hand-pressed screen prints. After weeks of brainstorming and preparation, the students at St. James had developed a good rapport with their mentors.
Zan Barnett, a first-year graduate student in the graphic design program at Tyler School of Art, laid out the materials his students would need for their first run of 20 prints. A thoughtful seventh grader sized up the situation.
“You’re going to need a smock,” she told him.
“I’ll get one,” volunteered another student. The boy returned with a slightly undersized, wrinkled and paint-spattered dress shirt with a faint pink wash. Barnett dutifully slipped the smock over his black tee shirt and the group got to work.
Their poster proclaimed “The Future is Now” and depicted the careers the students hoped to pursue: dancer, fashion designer, drummer, rapper. The posters designed by the three other groups similarly depicted a hopeful future.
St. James, a private Episcopal middle school, draws its students from Northwest Philadelphia’s impoverished Allegheny West neighborhood. Enrollment is limited to 15 students per grade. According to principal Laura Hoffman-Dimery, the one requirement for admission is the inability to pay any of the $18,000 per-year tuition.
“We don’t discriminate based on academics or behavior,” she said. “We just want to make sure we’re serving the students who need us most.”
The seventh grade is the fledgling class of the school that opened three years ago. An eighth grade class will be added next year, bringing its total enrollment to about 60, said Hoffman-Dimery.
One of the best benefits of the Temple project, she said is a connection with a college. A St. James staff member is dedicated solely to helping the students apply to high schools, and will follow them through high school, and hopefully to college.
The art project was the brainchild of Kelly Holohan, director of the MFA program in graphic and interactive design at Tyler School of Art, who has long wanted to make a community-based project part of the curriculum. Her students had to present their ideas to the St. James school, refine the project to suit the school’s needs, and perhaps most difficult, coordinate their schedules.
“It’s multifaceted,” said Holohan. “They have to do everything from dealing with the media to soliciting donations of materials.”
The next step is a visit in April to Tyler’s design studios, where the seventh graders will be given an opportunity to critique the work of their mentors. In May the students’ work will be exhibited professionally at Tyler, and the prints will be sold to benefit St. James’ scholarship fund.