Our next #FREDAGIRL is Lucy Rivera, an art teacher at MADE in Hayward Leadership Public School. Her course is called Maker/Design Studio, a space that gives her students a place to design, create and engineer projects not just for observation, but for use by other students and community members. Lucy is a creative young mom, teacher, and inspiration to many and today we got the chance to hear more about her life and work.
Tell us about your life leading up to now. How did you decide that you wanted to become a teacher?
My first memories were of making things and drawing, that’s what I did for fun all throughout my childhood. As I got older I realized that creating was something that brought me happiness and fulfillment. I learned of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow and I realized that I was achieving it when I was painting or drawing and I knew that to stay feeling purposeful I had to keep creating. When I was trying to figure out what to do after high school I knew I wanted to either go to art school or go into education. At that time, I learned that the University of San Francisco offered a program where I could go to CCA for my visual arts degree concurrently with graduate classes at USF to graduate with a BA in Visual Arts and a Masters in Teaching, so that combined with the magic of San Francisco was an easy decision. I started in teaching Visual Arts in Richmond at Leadership Public School , in the Iron Triangle neighborhood, which is historically a violent area. I am extraordinarily lucky I was able to start teaching at that school, not only is it a nationally recognized high school but it was a testament to the fact that every student wants and deserves the finest education. It simply does not matter where they are born, and each child simply does not have to become a statistic of their circumstances. After four years at that school I moved to San Diego after having my son and ended up teaching at a continuation high school near the border of Mexico. After a few years I was lucky to return back to the Bay Area and was offered a chance to create a class of my own, which is called Maker/Design Studio (madeinhayward.weebly.com). I teach two levels that offer students the opportunity to engage in the design thinking process and engineering principles in order to solve social problems, explore creative passions, and basically design with meaning and heart. We do everything from sewing to 3D printing to creating experiences for others, such as the Arcade we just built for the school on Halloween. It’s an incredibly fun job. Right now my upper level class is fundraising to embark on a trip to the Dominican Republic the day after school lets out. It is a service trip that will allow them to partner with locals in the Santiago and North Coast region on sustainable design solutions to lessen the impact on the the environment. Most of my students have never traveled outside of the US and, even outside of California. This trip if, successful, will be life-changing for them.
What has been your most rewarding moment as an art teacher?
That’s really impossible to answer, as those moments seem to constantly top each other. Most recently I would say being able to mentor three young men in creating their own streetwear brand for a school project last year and continuing into this year. .They began on the project last year, and I was skeptical at first, I didn’t know them too well and I observed that market as being oversaturated and full of hype and something they were interested in for the cool factor. They quickly proved me wrong and their vision of what they wanted their brand to me completely evolved into a mission to highlight the immigrant populations in the bay area and honor the historically marginalised communities of people they belong to and associate with. It’s been incredible watching them work through challenges and successes together while learning how to carry and nurture a creative idea in the midst of their AP classes, college applications, and journey of growing up. (Templebayarea.com)
What is the most surprising part of doing what you do? What lessons have your students taught you?
Teaching is completely dynamic, a living being that changes every single day. So much of teaching is not your subject area. It’s seeing every one of my 165 students as individuals who need and want different things in life and getting them to share those dreams and their struggles with you, even if it never seems like it matters, It does matter, they hear what you’re telling them.
Young people are so resilient. You may have a really negative experience with them one day, but the next morning they’re back at your desk ready to start over. I have students who are working to support themselves and even their families. Students who are facing DACA issues. Students who are waiting to see what is going to happen with their future. Every day these students show up and make it the best they can, every day matters for them.
It’s really surprising when I’ve taken my students out on the rare field trip, and we for example, take BART or Muni or are walking down the street. I rarely, if ever see passersby smile or engage with the students in a positive way. I even get a lot of remarks about general distaste for young people from the areas I teach in. It could be for a variety of reasons, but what I see is an automatic negative connotation of youth, and youth of color in large groups. It may not seem like the students care or that they notice, but they do. The thing is, they’ve done nothing to deserve it. Our world is at a critical point right now, and the young people in my classrooms are our future. I look at them and I think, it’s going to be okay. This is a really critical generation, they have had access to smartphones, tablets, high level tech since they’ve been born. Every single young person needs and deserves the same level of education.
When you are not teaching, how do you stay creative?
I try to draw as much as possible. I have always been interested in the human face so I do a lot of portraits. Mainly of people I know or people they stay with me because of their stories. If I am not working on a large portrait I spend time learning what is going on in the contemporary art and technology worlds so I can bring it into the classroom. I have a four year old son now and I’m trying to create opportunities for him to be creative as well, so It’s constantly all around me. When I really want to generate new ideas for my own work or student projects I try to take long walks or hikes without headphones or distractions and I’m able to think much clearer.
Who is your biggest role model in your personal or professional life?
My parents gave me a childhood where I was free to create constantly and without limitations. This was the eighties so not a lot of access to technology and we didn’t have money, but I know I always had art supplies around me and was given positive reinforcement around what I made or tried to make. I remember I went through a stage of making shoes out of paper and cardboard when i was around 8. Maybe that’s where my love for shoes began. I try and make sure that if my son wants to make and to create, he always can. Nikole Hannah-Jones is really inspirational to me, her reporting on segregation in schools and progressive education made clear to me my purpose as en educator and a mother.
Life mantra or words to live by?
‘The Sun will rise again’