Before Mainland Regional High School started its summer break, The Current had a chance to sit down with a number of talented artists who were part of a vibrant art program at the school. Mainland was in the art spotlight this past school year, thanks to a small dedicated group of staff and students who are passionate about art as well as life and the future.

The opportunity to talk with sophomores, juniors and seniors about the mediums they enjoy working in, along with their earliest memories of what “drew” them to art, gave insight into Mainland’s art program and the dynamic duo of art teachers, Lori Vaninni and Lauren Ashley, who help inspire the students with support from Kathleen Villano, Mainland’s supervisor of art instruction.

Sophomore Emily Shenkus was recognized this past year by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew for winning third place in the 2nd District Congressional Art Competition. Shenkus enjoys working with charcoal and acrylics and credits her eighth-grade art teachers for helping her develop her interest in art.

Chloe DeGaetano, who works in colored pencil, discovered a “new found” love for oil painting. Chloe smiled as she talked about crafting nearly every day since she was 6 years old. Fellow seniors Melissa Glenn and Claudio Moyer both enjoy working in acrylics, while Glenn also works ink and Moyer colored pencil.

Junior Jordan Ellis spoke directly of her enjoyment of digital art along with ink. She credits anime and Warner Brothers cartoons as a catalyst for her desire to create art. The group also included sophomores Kate Hasson and Andrea Celestino. Both Hasson and Celestino shared their enjoyment, and as the youngest artists in the group, said they were looking forward to continuing their art classes at Mainland.

Art educators Vaninni and Ashley, who are in their eighth and tenth year of teaching, described the goal of the art program as “creating scaffolding and layering multiple lesson plans” to help meet the needs of both experienced art students and those just entering the art classroom.

Ashley explained, “We want to create a comfortable setting to encourage the mixed grade and skill levels to feel free, open, and to experiment and take risks in the class.”

Vaninni talked about the importance of engaging the students.

“We do our best to create inspiration by example, showing the students pieces of art and to have them think about the art, then create it.”

The process is a form of “meditative execution.”

Along with Shekus’ recognition, the student’s work is gaining the attention of others outside the school. During the Atlantic County Teen Arts Festival, each of the visual art students we talked to as part of our visit to Mainland were selected to move on to a showing at Stockton University that included a closing reception and a Stockton Visual Arts Faculty meet and greet. Emily Shenkus, Andrea Celestino, Chloe DeGaetano and Sofia Forcella all had their work shown at Ocean County College for the state level competition. As a result, DeGaetano's work was chosen to be part of a national tour.

With Vaninni and Ashely both teaching six classes with twenty four students in each, the goal of motivating the students is so important to the success of the students in the class. Villano is supportive of the teacher’s efforts and proud of the results.

“Once the bell rings, for 54 minutes, the brushes, pencils, charcoal, paint, clay and plaster are being utilized by the students.”

Just like some of the paintings and work reflecting the work of the students and educators, the future of Mainland Regional High School’s Art Program looks bright.

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