At San Dieguito Academy (SDA), students are encouraged to create, explore, and discover their individual voice through the arts. With class options including everything from drawing, painting, and sculpture to cartooning, art history, and fashion design, students have plenty of opportunities to express themselves artistically. Read along as we speak with SDA Visual Arts Department teachers Angela Jackson, Jeremy Wright, Kajsa Medak, and Zachary Ramirez to learn more about how students are growing and thriving through art.
Q&A with SDA Visual Arts Department
Can you tell us a little bit about SDA’s Visual Arts Department?
Jackson: The Visual Arts Department has been a part of the curriculum since the school opened in 1936. Many art teachers have taught students when it was San Dieguito High School and then re-designed into San Dieguito High School Academy. David Newcomb was a big part of why San Dieguito High School and then the Academy is known for having an “art” focus. John Ratajkowski was hired as the original art teacher when the Academy was established in 1996 but there was a large unexpected enrollment for art sections and David Newcomb returned. Neal Glasgow was then hired after Newcomb retired with Jeremy Wright added as an art teacher of the Academy since 2003. Currently, we have three full-time art teachers and one part-time teacher.
Wright: It is not traditional in the sense that we do not care about the California State “Standards.” We honor every student’s journey and finding their voice in the visual arts.
What types of classes are offered by the department?
Beginning classes such as Drawing & Design, Painting, Sculpture, Studio Art, Digital Imaging, Cartooning, and Fashion Design. Intermediate courses, such as Advanced Sculpture and Seminar in Art. AP-level and senior courses, such as AP Studio Art, AP Art History, and Art Leadership.
What is the overall mission of the department?
Jackson: In essence, it’s all about fostering “student voice.” The artwork that you see at SDA is all student-centered.
Mission Our mission is to teach the visual arts in the context of an overall liberal arts education. We are a collaborative learning community, which encourages students to think creatively and be innovative, to find their own style and artistic voice, and to understand and analyze the artistic pursuit. We strive to help lead our students in becoming engaged and insightful participants.
Vision We nurture and develop learning environments that are designed to foster a supportive creative community, problem-solving skills, and collaborative thinking. Our vision is for students to be open-minded, think critically, and to have a lifelong appreciation of art.
SDA Visual Arts Department At-A-Glance
Address: 800 Santa Fe Dr., Encinitas, CA 92024
Email: Jeremy.Wright@sduhsd.net; Kajsa.Medak@sduhsd.net; Angela.Jackson@sduhsd.net; Zachary.Ramirez@sduhsd.net
How did you personally become involved with SDA’s Visual Arts Department?
Jackson: I completed my student teaching at SDA in 2005 with John Ratajkowski as my mentor teacher. Those six months indoctrinated me into the core beliefs of the Academy and I am so thankful to have worked with many of the original Academy teachers. I also helped build the visual art department at Canyon Crest Academy for eight years before returning to SDA in the fall of 2015. I truly enjoy being back and carrying the torch for all the great art that has transpired here at San Dieguito. I couldn’t think of being anywhere else and see this school as such a special community.
Wright: I’ve been here for over 16 years, but over 20 in our district. I taught at three other schools in our district, but this one stuck for me.
Medak: I personally became involved with SDA’s Visual Arts Department during my second year of teaching. I started my teaching career at Carmel Valley Middle School and during that second year was asked to teach a Drawing & Design class at SDA. The timing worked out and eventually I found my home at SDA. I couldn’t imagine a better fit – I wish I went to SDA when I was in high school!
Ramirez: Right place, right time. I grew up in this area, so I made and nurtured a lot of connections. When a position opened up here at SDA, Mr. Camacho got in touch with me, and here I am.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your role? The most challenging?
Jackson: Seeing students thrive and create daily is wonderful. Also, knowing students have continued with their passion in art is always a plus. But one of the best things to hear is when a former student, who might not have pursued the arts, says that art class was one of their favorite classes in high school. It’s fostering that sense of community, creativity, and warmth to last a lifetime. There really isn’t a challenging aspect – it’s an amazing job!
Wright: The most rewarding is when you are there to help turn on the lights for students – you see that epiphany happen in the moment. Challenging? When you get students who just don’t want to be there and bring down the rest of the environment. How do you guide that one individual in a positive direction? How do you try to make a connection?
Medak: There are a lot of rewarding aspects of my job. I love teaching in the ceramics room because my students come to class super excited and eager to see the new pieces come out of the kiln. You never know exactly how a piece will end up during the firing process which makes it really exciting to see how it turned out. It is really rewarding to see this spark of excitement in my students!
One of the most challenging aspects of my role is dealing with equipment that is overworked. The equipment is being run constantly, so inevitably there are parts that fail at what never seems to be an opportune time. Thankfully our administration team has been really supportive in helping us get up and running as soon as possible.
Ramirez: The most rewarding aspect of my role as an art teacher is to see the kids really embrace the art room, and feel comfortable enough to explore, experiment, and be individually expressive. It’s also rewarding to see the growth of each kid, and how much more confidence they have in making art by the end of the semester. They walk into the classroom not fully aware of what they can accomplish or create, and to see them have those artistic breakthroughs and become passionate about an idea or a project is one of the most rewarding aspects of my role. The most challenging part is probably establishing and maintaining the creative environment in the art room, and getting students to not be afraid to fail.
What have been some of the most popular projects with students?
Jackson: Murals, community connections (we exhibit with the City of Encinitas on a yearly basis), group projects, and painting on Plexiglass and on our trashcans.
Wright: I always like to do extracurricular projects with our students around our campus, for example: murals, sculptures, and art-related events.
Medak: I love to see what the students come up with from their imaginations when given the tools, technique options, a bit of inspiration, and a lot of encouragement!
How have the visual arts at SDA grown or changed over the years?
We continue to see growth. We have an additional art teacher, a new building to move into, new courses offered for students, more community connections, public art, and, of course, more amazing student artwork.
Are there any upcoming events or fundraisers the community should know about?
We regularly have restaurant nights that help our department. Check the SDA Facebook or our Instagram to keep posted.
What are the short-term and long-term goals of the department?
We are projected to move into our new state-of-the-art facility for Fall 2019 and are looking forward to being all together again and near our colleagues for collaborations in our new humanities building.
How can community members support the visual arts at SDA?
Jackson: We have over 800 students enrolled in visual arts classes each year. That’s a lot of hungry artists needing materials daily. We always welcome donations of anything – from old house paint to whole art studios and everything in between. Also, you can donate through our fabulous Foundation. Please make sure it includes “Visual Art” in the memo or donate online at sdafoundation.com.
Wright: Shoot us an email with what junk you might be throwing out. Sometimes it is that “junk” that makes for a great art project!
Occupation: Educator of Youth
Community: Encinitas Highlands
Education: Palomar, CSULB, Point Loma NU, SCAD
Hobbies & Interests: Surfing, gardening, petting my cat
Favorite Local Spots: My backyard, Swami’s, and, of course, SDA!
Occupation: Art Teacher
Education: BA in Psychology (UCSC) & M.Ed. in Secondary Education (University of Phoenix)
Hobbies & Interests: Traveling, surfing, snowboarding, being in the creative flow
Favorite Local Spot: The beach!
Occupation: Visual Art Teacher (Drawing and Design)
Education: BA in Art Education and Single Subject Art Credential at Long Beach State
Hobbies & Interests: Painting, drawing, relaxing with friends, checking out some live music, and playing basketball
Favorite Local Spots: D Street and Pannikin
Occupation: Visual Art Teacher
Education: BFA in Art, Penn State University; M.Ed. Lesley University
Hobbies & Interests: Painting, yoga, barre, travel, and investigating my Italian heritage
Favorite Local Spot: Cardiff Reef (my main source of inspiration for my paintings)
If you could describe your department in just five words, what would they be?
Jackson: Fun, funky, creative, accepting, and community.
Wright: “We are a bunch of misfits who found each other” – is that five words?
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Jackson: We are the only high school in the district that has a student-run art gallery with rotating exhibits. That gallery is the equivalent of a stage for artists. It is a strong and powerful component of our program and fosters community.
Wright: This is a special, unique place. I cannot imagine teaching anywhere else.