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I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Jessica Poser

Education through the arts

Jessica Poser and her 7-year-old son, Adrian, get cozy with Gulliver, the 36-foot-long outdoor sculpture by artist Tom Otterness on the SUNY New Paltz campus.

“With all of the increased time spent on testing, we’re really not giving kids an opportunity to explore and reflect on their own worlds.”

For most parents, Saturdays are a time to catch up and reconnect with their kids. But for Dr. Jessica Poser of Kingston, Saturdays mean catching up with a lot of kids.

Poser is the director of the Saturday Arts Lab at SUNY New Paltz, a program that offers classes in visual and performing arts for kids as young as kindergarten and as old as 12th grade.

The lab was founded in 2013 as a way for SUNY New Paltz’s advanced arts education students to gain experience working with kids before they leave campus for their student teaching programs the following semester.

Campus energy

On Saturday mornings, Poser and her students throw open their doors and welcome children from local public schools, private schools, home schools and even children of local migrant farm workers onto campus.

“Kids are literally running to their classes here, early on a Saturday morning, because they want to get to work,” said Poser. “They’re super excited. That in turn gets the undergraduate students excited. It brings this whole new energy to campus.”

An artist herself, with an MFA in sculpture and installation art, Poser draws inspiration from watching the kids in the program follow their passions and engage with the process.

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For the lab, it’s the process that is most important, not the finished product.

“We’re much more interested in letting the students experiment and innovate rather that saying ‘Here’s what you’re going to make, and it’s going to look like this,” Poser explained. “It’s discovery based. Part of the reason we call it the Saturday Arts Lab is because we want to view it as a laboratory where everyone’s invited to come in and just mess around and see what they can do.”

Explore and reflect

Poser sees the lab as an opportunity for kids to get the kinds of experiences they don’t necessarily get in their own schools during the week.

As many parents already know, the arts are often the first thing cut out of school budgets when times are tight. There may not be Regents exams in piano, photography or animation, but that doesn’t mean the arts aren’t a vital component of every child’s education.

“With all of the increased time spent on testing, we’re really not giving kids an opportunity to explore and reflect on their own worlds,” she said. “What that means for education is pretty profound and pretty scary.”

At the completion of each session, Saturday Arts Lab students have the opportunity to showcase their work for the community.

Important skills

Students in the lab often collaborate together on many of the projects, building teams and working together to solve problems. What may look like a bunch of kids stacking egg cartons together is actually a primer for building skills they’ll need throughout their educational careers.

“People always talk about ‘What are the 21st century skills we need to teach our kids?’” said Poser, “And we’re touching on all of them here: innovation, collaboration, participation, experimenting, taking chances. It’s deeply embedded in the process of what we’re doing.”

And Poser still manages to find time on Saturdays to catch up with her own 7-year-old son, Adrian. After all, he’s not too far away.

“He’s been coming to the lab for two sessions now,” says Poser. “I mean, I’ve been dragging him to arts museums since he was born so he’s pretty entrenched. But he’s a very prolific comic book writer and he really loves coming here. I just wish he got more of this in his own school.”

For more information, including how to register, visit the Saturday Arts Lab.

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