Arts, Science, and Community

By TECS News Team

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By TECS News Team; Additional reporting by Phoenix Rodan As Topanga Elementary Charter School (TECS) teachers continue to find innovative ways to engage their classes, we also want them to know how much we appreciate them for the many ways they inspire the children. “We have addressed equity for students by ensuring each has access to a device and purchased Mac Air laptops for our faculty,” said Principal Kevin Kassebaum, who is acutely aware of the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions. “Kudos to the TECS faculty for exposing students to stewardship lessons, compassion, and diversity, all via distance learning!” Phoenix Rodan, now a junior at Palisades High School and a TECS alumna, years ago, of Amy Weisberg’s and Miss Tapper’s TECS Newspaper club for the Topanga Messenger, contributed to this article in an interview with some of the fifth graders: As March approaches we are entering almost a year since teachers and their students have met in person. The challenge for teachers is getting to know a new class remotely, as it is for children who come into the school and have never attended in-person classes on our campus. One of those new students was Principal Kevin Kassebaum’s son, Peter, who courageously stepped into fifth grade and a new school community online due to COVID-19 restrictions. How does it feel being the son of his new school’s principal? “I felt really welcomed to the school. Everyone was really nice,” Peter said. “I think it’s awesome. My father is not only the principal of this school but of most of the schools I’ve been to. It makes it cool because he’s my dad, someone I know, who lives with me, and is one of the most important people in the school. It’s interesting.”
The connectivity that matters is not only technological tools but the community and the role that TECS plays as the heart of the community. Parent volunteers, who support and fundraise for the Topanga Enrichment Programs (TEP), rallied their efforts to support connections among the children by extending the popular Boo Grams of Halloween into Holiday Grams in December, into a timely fifth-grade fundraising initiative, Valentine Grams. These efforts connected the children to their friends by creating parcels of happiness full of treats for kids across the canyon, which their parents hand-delivered with a socially distanced wave.

What the TECS school community has done, as COVID-19-mandated virtual learning continues, is to look for novel ways to engage students, such as their “Passion Project,” compiling videos of “Kids’ Favorite Things to Do,” and making Valentine’s Day cards for Topanga seniors that were tucked into the Valentine’s Day meals Rocco’s Cucina delivered on Friday, February 12.
(l-r) Tempura paint collage, Coco Hosch, 3rd Grade; Collage with tempura for Black History Month, Bodie Beauvais, 5th Grade; Martin Luther King Jr.-inspired tempura paint collage by Haley Welch, 3rd Grade; Tempura paint collage by London Sloan, 2nd Grade, Tempura painting, Kristian Land Hill, 3rd Grade
Thanks to Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA*) and Topanga Elementary’s Arts Enrichment Committee, the school is fortunate to have a dedicated art teacher, Ms. Randy Butler, who put together art kits to distribute to every child at the beginning of the school year. These have been recently put to creative use for Black History Month.

Ms. Butler says, “Some of the artists I chose to feature for Black History month are loud in their activism and message, and graceful in their art: Charly Palmer, Kehinde Wiley, and Kerry James Marshall, to name a few. As a South African, now American, and an artist, it’s such a treat for me to teach and expose my students to Black artists who tell the story of Black history with grace and beauty. The kids really enjoy the strong imagery and color, and I get to watch a new generation of learners expand way beyond the norm. Topanga is a gift most students don’t get the opportunity to experience!”
Phoenix Rodan reports that one of the recent endeavors of the Topanga Science Committee and fifth-grade teacher, Dr. Amenta- Shin, notably the first TECS Elementary Science Ambassador, and Ms. Sondra Tapper, was to host a special screening of the documentary, Biggest Little Farm, for an ongoing project on sustainability and farming and a conversation with the director of the film, farm owner John Chester. Fifth-grade student, Henry Whittenburg, explained how having direct access to the filmmaker helped deepen their appreciation of the film.

“[John] gave a detailed response to every question [we] asked,” he said. “My favorite part was when they showed the ducks eating the snails. Instead of using pesticides on the snails that were eating the lemon trees, John and his wife, Molly, observed that ducks eat snails, and are a natural replacement for pesticides. This is an example of biodiversity, which they demonstrated by showing how, if the cover crops (grass) were getting too long, they would bring in goats or cows to eat the excess. If there were snails eating their apricot tree leaves, they brought in ducks to eat the snails. Nature taking care of nature instead of using chemicals.”

We know that our wonderful TECS community of teachers, parents, and community partners, are always looking for ways to make 2021 a meaningful educational experience. The fifth graders were able to see how the story of John and Molly was so relevant, not only to farming but to all of our lives.

Henry Whittenburg summed up the experience: “It taught me that even if there are unexpected conditions, you have to push through things when they get tough and never give up hope. They came up with creative solutions to their problems instead of giving up.”

*The Visual and Performing Arts Committee (VAPA) was established in 2017 as a sub-committee of TEP, to evaluate and suggest ways in which the arts program at Topanga Elementary Charter School (TECS) can grow and improve.

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