The Art of Bird Watching With Ms. Dore
“My approach to teaching art is very easy. Observation is the key. If you show the student a little enthusiasm, create a little spark, a point of interest, be it holding a pair of binoculars and observing a bird — is it male or female? Is it a sparrow or a mourning dove, shape, colors, etc. — that is the beginning of learning. That is the inspiration for paintings.” — Dorreta Poris, Art Teacher
With a flutter of bouncing branches, something lands in a holly bush outside of the Birch Family Services Phyllis L. Susser School for Exceptional Children. Dorreta Poris points and calls out in a loud whisper to her students, “Something just landed in that tree. Did you see it? What was it?”
“A sparrow!” one student replies excitedly while peering through his binoculars.
“Is it a male or a female?” asks Dorreta, or Ms. Dore, as the beloved art teacher is called by pretty much everyone at the Susser School, which provides a supportive, stimulating, and nurturing environment where students ages 10-21 with autism and other developmental disabilities feel valued and are safe to learn.
“A male. It has a beard,” another student explains. And he’s correct: the male sparrow sports a black feathery bib or “beard” under his beak.
Before too long, there are at least a half dozen sparrows — male and female — flitting around the front of the school, which is located on a quiet residential street in Flushing, Queens. In the small garden by the front doors, students have set dozens of homemade bird feeders on sticks, like a low, colorful forest. Every day, different students are chosen to fill the feeders with bird seed and spend a little time looking for sparrows, starlings, and other winged visitors.
“My approach to teaching art is very easy,” says Ms. Dore, who has taught at the Susser School for the past 15 years. “Observation is the key. If you show the student a little enthusiasm, create a little spark, a point of interest, be it holding a pair of binoculars and observing a bird — is it male or female? Is it a sparrow or a mourning dove, shape, colors, etc. — that is the beginning of learning. That is the inspiration for paintings.”
But just so you don’t think Ms. Dore’s art class is only for the birds, there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on inside the classroom, including but by no means limited to lapidary work, jewelry making, and 3-D printing. That’s right, 3-D printing. In fact, at the recent school-wide Science Fair in December, students from Ms. Dore’s class were on hand to sell jewelry that they made themselves with designs created on the computer and stones found on then beach and then polished in a lapidary machine.
Lapidary is a process related to stone and gems and the work involved in engraving, cutting, or polishing them. Students pick pebbles, shells, and sea glass, themselves and place them in the polisher’s bay to begin a process that can take days or weeks, depending upon the types of material used. When they’re worn smooth, stones are glued into forms created through a 3-D design application. Ms. Dore’s students work together in teams to design and create beadwork and chains for necklaces and bracelets that they sell at school events or at the nearby Flushing Townhall Holiday Market, where the students man the tables themselves, waiting on customers, counting back change, and proudly discussing the processes they used to create their jewelry.
“Art is all around us but often we take no notice,” says Ms. Dore. “Gathering information about rocks (geology) then learning how to tumble and polish the stones is another skill. They create a 3-D printed pendant and set the stones in place by using a 3-D pen. Students then learn how to work together to create jewelry, then market and sell what they have made.”
But whether in or out of Ms. Dore’s classroom, it’s the students’ creativity, skills, and pride that are on full display. And the Queens native is the first to tell you that.
“Working with the students of the Susser School gives me great pleasure because I enjoy seeing the students try, maybe do something they never did before or move their hands in a different manner, like twisting wire, tying a knot, painting, weaving, wrapping, sculpting, and creating computer 3-D art.”
According to the School Principal, Michael Claus, “Art encompasses a person’s creativity, individuality and self- expression; opening up a student’s mind to distance, space, color, the abstract and the potential to view the world from a different lenses”.
Rich in technology and literacy-based activities, the school-age program at the Phyllis S. Susser School for Exceptional Children builds literacy, numeracy and communication into every aspect of learning, and offers experiences with music, the arts, and technology, so that students can develop new skills, take risks, and achieve a strong sense of self-worth. In addition to academic goals, the program focuses on the development of students’ social, emotional and communication skills toward preparing them for as independent, successful, and fulfilling lives as possible. Extra-curricular opportunities offered by the school include student government, horticulture and an award-winning, locally exhibited art program as well as interest groups involved in running, crafts, games, yoga, sports, and water activities in the school pool.
Birch Family Services believes that children with autism and other developmental disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate education. Designed to promote student participation in developing independence, educational goals and self-advocacy, our programs offer individually designed instruction for optimal learning experiences, utilize research-based assessments and curriculum, provide positive behavioral and emotional supports, and engage students in work-based learning and vocational training opportunities.