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September 26, 2007

Oxbow School draws talented teens

Talented Teens Drawn To Napa Valley’s Oxbow School
Semester-Long Program Produces Skilled Thinkers & Artists

By any measure, a school that sends teenaged graduates to colleges like Harvard, Yale and M.I.T. is doing a good job educating the young.

But when the same program also sees alumni accepted to New York’s highly selective Cooper Union, while others pursue careers in science – then, you know something unusual is going on at Napa’s Oxbow School.

The Oxbow School is founded on the premise that - through rigorous studio art practice grounded in creative and intellectual inquiry - an individual's critical thinking abilities are profoundly enhanced.

“I don’t think you measure Oxbow’s success in terms of SAT scores or degrees,” said Oxbow head and founding director Stephen Thomas, a printmaker who has worked with artists as diverse as Wayne Thiebaud and John Cage.           
“I think you measure it by whether or not the students feel empowered to pursue their interests, whatever their career interests are in life.”

Since 1999, some 500 teenagers have experienced Oxbow’s one-of-a-kind semester program in the fine arts. A 16-week version of the traditional “junior year abroad,” Oxbow immerses high-school juniors and seniors in the practice of art and critical inquiry .

Students from California make up the largest group at Oxbow, but the school also draws young artists from as far away as Florida and Maine.

Living in campus suites along a bend in the Napa River, the students spend their days in the school’s well-appointed waterfront studios, working with accomplished artist-instructors. During the first twelve weeks of the semester they build their skills; the last month is devoted to a final project. Instead of graduation exercises, they personally present their completed works in a public exhibition.

Three meals a day, prepared from fresh, local ingredients by chefs who came to Oxbow from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant, introduce the young artists to the pleasures of a deliciously nutritious diet:

“Part of our philosophy is to introduce students to a healthy lifestyle on all levels,” Thomas explained.

That philosophy includes the life of the mind: Oxbow’s educational design is informed by the theory on multiple intelligences developed by Harvard professor Howard Gardner. Like Gardner, Thomas believes that the future will belong to those who have not one type of intelligence, but five:

“‘The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking,’” Thomas said, quoting Gardner. “‘The synthesizing mind takes information from different sources.
Oxbow students develop a new sense of identity, self-worth and confidence that enables
them to take more active responsibility for their learning and lives.

The creating mind breaks new ground and raises new ideas. The respectful mind welcomes differences between people. The ethical mind ponders the nature and purpose of work.’

“This is exactly what this pedagogy and this community should be about,” Thomas concluded.

The Oxbow experience has been an enduring one for alumni like Rachel Mikulsky, who attended in the fall of 2004. Mikulsky returned to the school in June to speak at last year’s annual “Celebration of an Artful Life” gala.

“At Oxbow, they taught us to explore, to challenge what we know, and
to seek understanding of what we do not,” Mikulsky told guests at the dinner.

“The way Newton explored, theorized and experimented is no different from the way students are asked to explore, theorize and experiment while at Oxbow. Now, to me a true artist is an inventor and a true inventor is an artist,” continued Mikulsky, who attends the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland.

“So now, at twenty, I find myself … not in art school like I might have planned, but instead pursuing a degree in sustainable development and economics. I find that I feel more like an artist than I ever did.”

Oxbow School is taking applications through the end of this year for its spring semester, which begins Jan. 23. For more information, contact the school at 707-255-6000 or www.oxbowschool.org.

Editor’s Note: For additional information contact Pam Hunter- 707-258-1699 x 15 or Pamela@studio-707.com

Posted by Pamela at September 26, 2007 5:36 PM| Share on Facebook | Art Education, Non-wine activities in Napa Valley, Oxbow School

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