by CINDY M. CRANMER
A passion for art that started when he was a child turned into a 35-year career of inspiring students at Rockford schools.
Lakes Elementary School had its annual Art Make-and-Take event on Thursday, April 26. The man who was behind the creation of the event teaches art at Lakes as well as teaching at other Rockford schools.
“This is about the 30th year of the art show at Lakes,” said Kenn Vidro, art teacher.
Vidro started his teaching career at Rockford High School with Lakes Elementary becoming his “anchor” school when the district decided to start an elementary art program in 1983. Although he has taught some art classes as part of the art staff at the other elementary schools over the years, Vidro has never stopped teaching at Lakes since he started with the school’s art program.
The students at Lakes, from the newest kindergarten student to students who graduated many years ago, think fondly of “Mr. V” and his passion for art.
“Kenn Vidro is a legend around here,” said Lakes Elementary School Principal Blake Bowman. “His passion, his humor, his joy for teaching basically makes him the Pied Piper.”
Bowman joked that if Vidro played tuba, there would be 500 students playing tubas.
“A night like this is a great chance for the parents to see the magic the kids see everyday,” Bowman said.
Vidro not only influences young artists, but is an accomplished artist himself. As summer is approaching, Vidro is contemplating what his third entry into ArtPrize will be.
ArtPrize is an art contest that takes place yearly in Grand Rapids and gets applicants locally, from the United States as well as other countries. Cartooning and painting are among the art mediums Vidro most enjoys.
Last year, his ArtPrize entry focused on a series of 14 paintings from rhyming riddle books. The books consist of word riddles called “square pears” that Vidro wrote and illustrated himself. The clues to the answers are given in the form of words and in the form of cartoon illustrations. The answer is always a set of rhyming words.
He is considering doing a large “I spy” type painting for his 2012 entry.
Hundreds of students and community members came out to Thursday’s event to view the artwork on display by the students. The students and their families walked away from the event with the works that they had previously created as well as projects done on Thursday night.
For the first time, additional art projects besides drawings were at the event. On display were art projects that were created during Art Attack, which is Lakes’ version of ArtPrize.
Thursday’s make-and-take projects included a drawing table, a booth to make origami houses, a station to create whirly birds (a twist on a paper airplane), and an imagination creation station. The creation table had tubes, beads, pipe cleaners, wood, glue, paper and other items, where budding artists used their creativity to design projects and express themselves.
“The kids just make whatever they want to make from the collected items. It is truly their expression, which is what art is about,” Vidro said.
Each of the 504 Lakes students had artwork from Vidro’s class on display in the cafeteria area. Vidro said first- through fifth-grade students had two pieces each while kindergarten students had one each.
Vidro spent a good share of the night on the ladder, pulling artwork down for proud students to give to their families.
“This is fun. He’s a funny teacher. You get to make cool stuff,” said Stella Cizauskas, first-grade student at Lakes.
“I love this. It’s fun to see all the art, to meet Mr. V, and it’s good for the community,” said her father, Matt Cizauskas. “The kids love it.”Her brother, Dylan, has had Vidro from kindergarten through fourth-grade art and describes Vidro as “an amazing teacher.”
Taking a chance and expressing themselves is something that Vidro tries to inspire in his students whether in the classroom or doing an entry for an event such as Art Attack.
Cameron Martin, who left Lakes after seven years of art from developmental kindergarten through fifth grade, came back to the event with his family.
“He was always encouraging our art,” Martin said. “I really enjoyed it for the seven years I was here.”
His younger brother, Grant, agrees Vidro is a good art teacher who lets the students control their projects. “He doesn’t boss you around. He lets you go. He’s good at teaching and he’s really funny. I think he is just awesome.”
Vidro volunteers his time for two to three months to start collecting drawings and stringing them up for the displays. He also takes a personal day when the Art Make-and-Take is going on to set up and prepare for the event at the school.
For Vidro, doing things on his own time to make the event a success is a price that is worth paying. “It’s well worth it for me,” Vidro said. “Art has always been a passion.”
“Now, I get to share that with my students,” he added.
“Kenn is unique and his personal sacrifices are to be commended,” Bowman said. However, he said, the school is filled with teachers who have untold stories of their personal sacrifices, investments and costs. “For our teachers, it’s not a job it’s a passion. Kenn is a great illustration of this.”
From the young student who was excited about his artistic creations, to the college student who studied art education and elementary education, to the teacher who influences hundreds of students yearly, to the artist, Vidro is well-liked by staff and students alike.
“I am teaching kids of kids. When I was fresh out of college I taught some students at the high school. Now I have their grandkids here,” Vidro said. “I like the freedom of expressions that happen.”
Vidro said it is more than students who get involved in the event. It’s parents, grandparents and community members as well.
“You get to express your creative side and then take home your artwork,” Vidro said.
Frances Peasley, mother to Declan Shannon, was doing just that with her first-grade son. Peasley had created a bug car using wheels, pipe cleaners and eyes at the Creation Station.
“I think it’s nice to get the kids together and to be able to do activities with them,” Peasley said of the hands-on approach she was taking.
“I’m having fun,” Shannon said. “I want to do it again.”
Peasley agreed that she hopes the district can provide activities that require volunteers and hard work along with art supplies in the future. “I hope they continue to have these types of events. It’s really great for the community,” she said.
If a student is unable to get the artwork they created in his art class, Vidro saves it and makes sure they get their pieces. “I always promise they’ll get their artwork,” he said.
Vidro feels that holding Art Attack as part of the Make-and-Take is a perfect fit. “There couldn’t be a better match,” Vidro said.
The students have the opportunity to use the techniques they learn in Vidro’s classes or explore a new medium on their own to create artwork.
“There’s always something new everyday,” Vidro said of art. “There are new techniques or students get to learn old ones.”
The passion and dedication have been around for years and are something that neither the other staff nor Vidro see leaving anytime soon.
“The arts are alive and well,” Vidro said. “This is one thing students can do and they can’t do wrong.”
“This is a great community event. It is a fun, family night,” Bowman said. “The parking lot is full, so that is always a good sign.”
Vidro agreed the event was a success. “It is a very great turnout,” he said. “It is typical of our dedicated parents. They are supportive of the arts.”
Some of those parents who are supportive of the arts also are educators, such as Chris Pitsch, a first-grade teacher at Lakes. Pitsch brought her three children as well as coming to see her students.
“I like to mingle with the kids on a social basis,” Pitsch said. “It’s good for the kids to see me out of class. This has always been a fun event.”
The students enjoy seeing her outside of the classroom. First-grader Brendan Cranmer ran up to give her a hug with his arms filled with projects from the Art Make-and-Take to show his teacher.
“I like creating art. It’s a lot of fun. Art can be whatever you want to make,” Cranmer said.