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'Mr. T' inspires Legend art students

Kalen Thornton, left, overseeing one student project, another student off to the right.

PARKER— The annual Douglas County School District Art Show is upon us, and students in art classrooms across the district, in all grade levels, are putting the final touches on their works of art from paintings and sketches to sculptures and jewelry.

In Kalen Thornton’s ceramics classroom at Legend High School, students were hard at work on the several pottery wheel stations and at their workspaces with X-Acto knives and other tools as they refine their art works. A handful of students, whose pieces were already chosen for inclusion in the Art Show displayed both excitement and seriousness, knowing what a big deal the showcase is.


March 31-April 3, 2017
Hilton Garden Inn
1050 Plaza Dr., Highlands Ranch
Gallery Hours: 10 AM - 8 PM

“Being able to showcase these students, their talent, it’s a privilege for us,” Thornton said. It’s like a cooking show, they take their food out of the oven in the end and everyone goes ‘ohh!’ That’s kind of what the art show is like for us, we finally get to put this stuff on display so that people can see how big our program is and how beneficial it is to so many students.”

This will be the second time that Legend junior, Shelby Willis, will have a piece showcased in the District-wide Art Show.

“Last year, I wasn’t even familiar with what it was, but it was really cool to make a piece for the art show. Now that I know I will have another piece this year it’s even more exciting, because if I’m going to continue in ceramics it’s a great thing to have under my belt,” she said. “Next year I’m going to take AP ceramics, and then hopefully I can do something with it in college too.”

For Willis, as well as many other students in Thornton’s class, her passion for art is brand new, inspired by “Mr. T” himself, as the students lovingly call Thornton.

“I didn’t even like art when I was in middle school, but then I took ceramics and I love it,” Willis said. “My family is not really artistic or anything, so they were surprised that I am! They really support me.”

Jimmy Caras, a senior in Thornton’s class, similarly did not think he was interested in art prior to taking his ceramics class.

“I came to one of the ‘Legend Begins’ nights and I saw Mr. T using one of the [pottery] wheels, and I thought wow, that’s so cool, and I just had to take the class. After that I kept going from level to level and fell in love with it,” Caras said.

Thornton and ceramics were so inspiring to Caras, in fact, that he enrolled in all of the visual art classes Legend has to offer. Now, he is now planning on pursuing a culinary degree at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, specializing in pastry arts.

“This class is going to come in really handy because I’ll be working with chocolate sculpture, cake decorating and other 3-D pastry sculpting, so this will be a nice segway into that,” he said.

Last year, at the urging of Thornton, Caras submitted one of his art works to the Scholastic Art Awards and ended up winning the Silver Key Award. As a benefit of the award, his piece was shown in both the Denver Art Museum and the Denver History Museum.

“It’s crazy, because before my freshman year, this was not something that was on my radar at all. It was really thanks to Mr. T that I’m pursuing this,” he said.

It’s Thornton’s care for his students, his attention to detail, his ability to relate to his students, and his sense of humor that has made him what many of the teens call their “favorite teacher.”

“Mr. T is by far the best. He breaks everything down and if you need extra help he’ll take time out to work with you, he’s really attentive and on top of everything,” Caras said.

“He’s really helpful, easy to get along with, easy to talk to when I have problems with ceramics or anything else,” Willis said. “When I was learning, he taught things in a way that was really easy to understand. Going on the wheel is a hard thing, but he taught it in a way that we could learn it faster and get it more easily.”

Legend senior, Alyssa Brunner, who has been taking art classes since fifth grade, attended an arts middle school and recently moved to Colorado from South Carolina, added, “out of all my years of art, he is the greatest teacher I’ve ever had in my life. He convinces me that I have confidence. When I’m making my art works, I don’t have confidence and I feel like I need another person’s suggestion as to what would make it better. Ever since last year he’s been making me stronger and more independent, and everything I’ve created, he’s helped me. It’s great to know that I have a teacher who can actually be there for me. And his opinions are amazing and his artworks are amazing, he’s really inspirational.”

Thornton, who has been teaching in Douglas County for seven years, has a teaching philosophy that he relates back to his own experience in high school.

“High school is such an integral time in somebody’s life. They are starting to figure out who they are as a person and what they want to do with their lives. Even if they’re not going to become a professional artist or art teacher, I want them to go into the world knowing that creativity can be a big part of who they are. When students come in saying ‘I can’t do this, I can’t even draw a stick figure’ I say ‘you can, though. Let me show you how easy it can be to practice it.’ So for students I get into my class who say they do not like art, I say, just try ceramics. I want them to come in here and feel like they can be creative, like they are safe and feel like they can be themselves. When they are at their ten-year reunion I want them to think back and say, wow, ceramics, Mr. T was right about learning to be myself.”

March 9, 2017 | By CSilberman | Category: High School Education, Schools

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