My name is Stephanie De La Cruz-Alba, I’m in my last semester of the Art Education Master’s program at City College of New York, student teaching at the High School for Fashion Industries and a Spanish teacher at St. John’s School in the Bronx. Education is my second career. In a previous life I studied Fiber Science and Apparel Design Management at Cornell University and Accessories Design at Fashion Institute of Technology. I worked in the fashion industry for over ten years in different capacities and for a diversity of brands from High-end designers such as, Chanel, Brian Atwood and Alexander Wang to street wear and specialty labels such as, Beyonce’s Dereon and Steve Madden. I’ve had the opportunity to work in sales and marketing, trend forecasting and design. For most of my career I freelanced in various companies and enjoyed learning how different designers operate their businesses. Sounds fun and exciting and it was for some time. However, I was never quite satisfied, at the end of the day I often felt like my time and energy had gone into an empty abyss never to be appreciated or experienced. It hit me one summer while on vacation and playing with my niece, that I could be an art teacher. As soon as I returned home I searched for programs in Art Education and came across CCNY. I registered for a class and felt my time making art could finally be put to good use with children.
It has been three years, since then, I have had wonderful opportunities working in education at all grade levels. After volunteering in a Kindergarten classroom, I was offered an opportunity to teach Spanish to first through eighth grade at St. John’s school. I have learned it is probably more work teaching children than it is working in any fashion. I feel the time spent in preparing lessons, teaching and grading has not been wasted, because I have passed on a valuable set of skills on to another human being. I consider it to be similar to gift giving. It has been challenging and I know I have a long way to go before I can say I am effectively leading students in the classroom. At the same time, it has been an exciting experience, everyday is so different you never know what children have in store for you. I would get bored in my previous line of work, I can not say that I have ever been bored while teaching, it is simply not possible when working with young students.
Currently I’m in the middle of writing my thesis, which is focused on the experience of Black and Latino boys at Fashion High School. I became interested in the topic of boys who successfully graduate from specialized art schools, such as, High School for Fashion Industries, while learning about the dismal rate of Black and Latino boys, 63.8% and 61.4% respectively, who actually graduate from high school. The information was not surprising to me. I grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan at a time where most boys who got lost in the school system ended up on the streets, disengaged from school and engrossed in a life ofillicit activities with gangs usually dealing drugs. While doing research I have found that art schools that have successful graduation rates offer more than a place to learn. Teachers, administrators and staff provide, strong, positive and supportive relationships and school culture that counter the streets.
For my project, I have chosen to write a narrative on the experiences of three senior boys at HSFI. It has been a wonderful experience learning about their interests in the arts and discovering that although they are graduating this June, they are still in need of support as they transition to life after high school. Two of the students do not know what college they will attend,while the other is attending School of Visual Arts in the fall. It has been a tough journey for the boys, all traveling far distances to get to Chelsea early in the morning and I commend them for their efforts. I have found that these students did not obtain high marks throughout the years and two are currently failing a few classes or barely passing. This raises some concerns; there is still some level of disconnection, even in art classes.
With the conclusions I reach from my study, I hope to provide teachers and school administrators with a large number of Black and Latino males, valuable information to help keep these students motivated from a young age and catch those who are at risk of not reaching their academic potential. Hopefully, my study allows for the voices of students to communicate their experiences in an art school, what has met their expectations and what has not. What aspects of attending a specialized art school have assisted them and what has failed them? Schools can then use this study to provide extra support for their students, as they get ready to transition to college.