Name: Sam Spitzer
Job Title: High School Art Teacher
Location: Lincoln Park; Denver, Colorado
I'd always been envious of the kids at my high school that had 5th period in the "drama tower". I walked past the entrance at least five times a day but never had the courage to wander up there. In my mind, it was freedom. For fifty minutes every day, those kids had the opportunity to break away from the humdrum fluorescent lighting and standard four wall, two windows classroom, to a TOWER. So when I learned over the summer that a good friend on mine was moving his art class up to the tower in his school, I just had to go check it out.
Mr. Spitzer has been teaching art in the Denver Public School system for 9 years, the last 5 at West High School. Built in 1883, the building boasts gorgeous architectural details, including the old bell tower that stands tall above the main entrance. It caught his eye the first time he visited, and after 5 years of four walls and two windows, he decided it was time to change the scenery and submitted a proposal to turn the storage/catch all tower into his new art room.
School has been in session for close a month and the new space is a hit. Random students (more brave than I!) shoot out from the stairwell and quickly take in the tower, proclaiming they are "gonna have to take this class next semester". Mr. Spitzer plans for the upper tower room to become private student studios, where students can have assigned spaces and return to their work without having to store it away after each class.
West High School, like many other public schools, has seen budget cuts a plenty and will be phasing out traditional high school. This year there is no 9th grade, and next year there will be no 10th. The class of 2015 will be the last West High School graduates, and the building will then be divided into two charter schools. Mr. Spitzer's number one priority has always been "putting my students first, giving them something to take pride in, and providing a professional space to create in." A true DIY'er, he has succeeded in creating an inspiring workspace that promotes freedom of thought and creativity, and shows his students that classrooms come in many shapes and sizes.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Inspiration: Natural light. As an art teacher, light is super important. The second I saw the natural light shining in this space, I knew I needed to attempt to use this space as an art classroom. I really wanted my students to feel special, to have this space be a retreat, sort of like a secret hideout, or club that only they are a part of. The traditional high school in my building is "phasing out." Because of this, my number one priority was putting my students first, giving them something to take pride in and providing a professional space to create in.
Favorite Element: I have so many favorites, so I'll only mention a couple. The large windows are amazing. I rarely have to turn lights on in my classroom. And I love the stairs to the upper tower, which I plan on using as private student studios.
Biggest Challenge: The years of scratched in/written graffiti. I had to think creatively about how to cover these up and paint over them on short notice. This space was simply storage for years, and students had found ways to sneak up and scratch into the corkboard which runs the perimeter of the room. I also was challenged by the multi-tiered nature of the room. While I love this aspect, it tends to complicate things. I felt like I had to cram desks on the upper part and that the lower part is still a little sparce.
What Friends Say: That I'm "the luckiest teacher in the building." Colleagues often chuckle when I refer to it as "my tower." and I've gained the nickname 'Rapunzel'. Even this morning, I had a couple of students sneak into the tower, thinking no one was in there, and when I made my presence known, they just kept saying, "You're so lucky, Mister. I'm gonna have to take this class next semester."
Area where there is room for improvement/future projects: Pockets of inspiration, images and artwork to inspire my students and further their knowledge and understanding of the elements and principles of design. I also would love to continue to find places to display my students' artwork.
Proudest DIY: Hanging unwanted globes to create a visual interest point in the room. Also, my free solution to covering up my cork boards with construction paper and a stapler.
Biggest Indulgence with respect to my space: It is really difficult as an art teacher to have the freedom to indulge in anything. I have to work with what I have and often times, what I have is not very much. I use the free items I have and those which have been collected over the years to attempt to create some still life moments in my room.
Dream Sources: Habitat for Humanity Re-store
Resources of Note: Furniture: I chose the best furniture from my previous room and arranged it in such a way as to give each student their own space for ideas, privacy and room.
Accessories: I find my accessories from other teachers in the building. I will spy something on its way to the trash and if it's an interesting shape or texture, I'll steal it for still life moments in my room.
Lighting: I chose this space for its lighting. Because of this, I rarely have to turn on the overheads. However, when I do need to turn them on, they are raised so high that they provide a nice, even light throughout the room.
Organizing Tools/Accessories: I love having two huge closets for storage. After sharing a space for years which had even more years of built up and accumulated junk, it was nice to purge everything and simply have on hand my materials and what I need for class.
Thanks, Mr. Spitzer!
(Images: Ashley Poskin)