By Christina Whiting
When their school is faced with the residue of negative publicity, Homer High School students and faculty reclaim their pride. One way is through Colors of Homer, a student-driven group, working to build positive, creative outlets for themselves and for their peers.
“Our goal is to cultivate opportunities for students to express their creativity and to provide a supportive platform for them,” said Robert Hockema, a Homer High School senior and one of the group’s coordinators.
Colors of Homer was developed last year in response to the negative perception the school was getting after an incident that happened off campus during the football season.
“The students wanted to do something positive to change this perception,” Principal Doug Waclawski explained.
Special education teacher Matt Tucker recognized that the students were looking for a positive way to unite and to process what was happening. He sent e-mails to the faculty, looking for ideas to encourage a creative outlet for the teens. Art teacher Alayne Tetor responded.
“I was involved in a similar program in Anchorage and I thought this was a good idea for Homer High,” Tetor said. “The students wanted to build pride in the school and to celebrate the good things that happen here.”
Ms. Tetor has seen first hand the positive impact creative outlets can have on students.
“When kids have an opportunity to express themselves creatively, they can process and manifest whatever’s happening in their lives into a positive, creative outlet,” she said. “When they don’t have this opportunity or outlet, it can come out as destructive behavior.”
An initial Focus on Learning meeting was held at the school and 10 students attended. By the fifth meeting, a core group had formed.
“During the meetings, we asked the kids what they wanted,” Tetor said. “Together, we created the name, a vision and a mission.”
The name Colors of Homer (CoH) refers to students showing their colors or their artistic side. The vision was to provide a creative outlet for all students who wanted to participate. Their mission was to invite students and community members to gather off campus to support each other’s creativity and diversity.
Two community events were planned and students were encouraged to exhibit visual art, recite poetry and spoken word, play music, tell jokes, sell desserts, or share whatever talent they have or that they wanted to develop.
“We were pretty much like, hey, if you have something you want to do, do it,” Hockema said.
The first event was at Homer Council on the Arts in November and the second at K-Bay Caffe in February. Over 150 community members attended. Students donated the money that was raised from donations and the sale of artwork and desserts to the school’s visual arts department and the REC Room.
With these successful events to their credit, the students are busy planning for this year.
“We’ve got the logistics figured out now,” Hockema shared. “We want to have two to three events this year.”
Informal student-run meetings are held during Focus on Learning times in the art room. All students are encouraged to participate.
“We’re definitely looking for kids who want to perform,” Sabina Karwoski, a senior and group coordinator, said. “We also need help behind-the-scenes with tech support, setting up chairs, distributing flyers, that kind of thing.”
Excitement is building among students who participated last year and those who are new to the group this year.
“I want to be a part of something really cool,” Shenandoah Lush shared. “This sounds rad.”
Hannah Stearns writes poetry and draws.
“I really like that everyone’s accepted equally,” she said.
“I love that the group is united no matter how different everyone is,” Marina Reyes said.
For most students, CoH provides them with their first opportunity to perform in front of an audience.
“Judgment, rejection, and stage-freight are all things artists must overcome,” Hockema said. “I know how it feels to be uncomfortable with yourself as a performer. That’s why I take initiative with this group.”
The outpouring of community support inspires the students and helps to build their confidence.
“The arts are a big part of our school and of Homer,” Hockema said. “When local businesses support the arts, we’re encouraged even more.”
Michael McGuire owns K-Bay Caffe and donated his venue to the students in February.
“A group like this is one of the reasons that K-Bay Caffe exists,” said McGuire. “Young adults need a place and an outlet for creative expression. This is crucial for their development. We’re here to provide a non-alcoholic venue for youth and adults.”
CoH is planning an event for November. They hope to have merchandise to sell, including T-shirts and wristbands.
Follow Colors of Homer on their Facebook page where they share, ‘Do Colors of Homer a favor, and spread the word. We reject no one.’
“These are really good kids doing really good things,” Waclawski said. “They’ve taken a negative situation and from it created something positive and powerful.”
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