The room was quiet except for the hum of the pottery wheel and the soft sound of brush strokes. Each student was deep in concentration, working on a painting, drawing or clay sculpture.
The open art studio at Waukesha South High School lets students spend as much time as they want in the classroom to work on art projects they want to pursue during the summer.
Running for four weeks during summer school, the studio is open from 7 a.m. to noon, with students showing up whenever they feel like, and leaving when they feel they are done.
'I just saw a need,' Art Teacher Tom Mancuso said.
Mancuso runs the studio space during the summer, which came about after he taught art classes during summer school for a few years, and saw a need to change the program. He went to the district and petitioned to return to the open studio concept that they had in the past.
'These kids haven't had experience being able to work on a project for any length of time,' Mancuso said. 'During the school year they get 45 minutes to get mentally there to get to that creative space and work.'
But with the studio space, students are given the opportunity to work for hours on end, without interruption.
'I actually have time to do more things, make better pieces, make it more precise,' Cozette Hoenk, a senior, said, 'I can spend my time and make bigger pieces, or more detailed ones.'
Cozette comes into the studio almost every day to work. She likes ceramics and has been working on pieces thrown on the wheel during the last few weeks. The advantage of having more time really benefits when working with clay, Cozette said, as there are multiple steps- drying, putting a handle on, carving, firing, glazing- that take time.
And many of the other 20 or so kids who signed up for the studio come every day. Most of them have taken art classes throughout their years at high school and are highly interested or motivated in the subject, according to Mancuso. One student, sophomore Dylan Vukich, is even taking an art class during the studio time, so he can advance and open up his schedule during the fall.
Because of the limited space in the classroom, signing up is required with a cap around 27 or 28 students.
'I want everyone to have their own space,' Mancuso said. ' If there are too many students that's not possible.'
Walking around the classroom there were distinct work stations where friends or siblings had set up near each other, with everyone in the classroom being supportive of one another, talking about their projects or a technique they've struggled with or going through photos and getting a second opinion.
'It's an oasis,' Mancuso said.
Mancuso has been teaching for almost 25 years, working at a few elementary and middle schools in the district before teaching at the high school. He went to the High School of Art and Design, a prestigious visual arts school in New York, and went to a few different colleges before graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Education from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He received his Master's degree in Visual Studies from Cardinal Stritch University.
'I tend to just go by instinct, impulse,' Mancuso said. 'Throw the spaghetti on the wall and see if it sticks, that's how I live my life.'
He directs the studio, but there is no concrete direction, students can explore the areas of art that interest them whether that be photography or digital illustration or drawing.
'They can explore concepts and the thought process,' Mancuso said. 'They can push ideas and add an intellectual component.'
It's one of the reasons the district is so supportive of the program, and of the arts in general, it advances their goals of developing higher level thinking skills in students, and independent creativity has been show to add value to any field one is looking to pursue.
'Students need to e creative, and that's always been a value in this district,' Mancuso said.
This year, the art studio is free, with the district covering the usual $60 materials fee students have to pay when they sign up, making it even more open and flexible for all looking for something to do over the summer.
As it got closer to noon, students began cleaning up their stations, putting away paints and sweeping up clay scraps. A few had left already, taking one last look at their work before leaving, until they come back tomorrow.