As Oyster River transitions in a new school year they welcome two talented new art teachers John Willemse and Allison Plourde into the building. The Oyster River community misses the former art teachers (Tim Lawrence and Tracy Bilynsky) as they were long-time members of the school district, but the community is also excited to meet and work with new teachers. So far, students have given positive feedback about working with the new art teachers. They have noticed a well rounded skill set from the art department, and unique art experience and energy from the individual artists. The new teachers are transitioning well to a new change, especially considering there are only new Oyster River teachers in the art department (Maria Rosi is away on maternity leave). Willemse and Plourde have loved meeting people and already have big goals for the art department.
Willemse currently teaches Intro to Art, Drawing and Painting I, and Digital Photography. He is super excited to be a part of the Oyster River school district and work with students. Willesme shared why he decided to work at ORHS and some of his first experiences.“I liked the art teachers [Lawrence, Rosi, and Bilynsky]. Before I knew them, though, I just saw the school culture as very diverse, inclusive, and accepting of all different ideas… . That, in itself, I thought would form a great art department and great art curriculum with room to explore,” he said.
Willemse really enjoys connecting with each individual student and watching them grow. It took Willemse some time to figure out what he wanted to do for a career, as he went back and forth between multiple interests and career choices in college. Willemse explains why he picked teaching and that his favorite part of teaching is “seeing somebody start at one level and then all of the sudden [grow]. It doesn’t always happen in a thorough evolution. Sometimes you just see [growth] one day and not another. All of a sudden they have a skill, or interest that they didn’t have before. It’s like watching life form itself, which I thought was interesting and I liked the creative process.”
Before Willemse realized he loved teaching art he pursued another love of his which is playing music. Willemse plays guitar, sings, and writes his own music. Picking between music and art was a tough choice for him at the beginning of college. Willemse got a music business degree at the Westchester Conservatory of Music in New York. Eventually, Willemse decided he didn’t want that to be his main career. Later he got more serious about creating art and got an associates degree in graphic design at SUNY Rockland Community College. He continued with that education and got a Bachelor of Science degree in Visual Art Education from State University of New York at New Paltz. After college, Willemse spent some time doing dairy farming and also got some teaching experience as a substitute teacher for art and a teacher aid.
Now that Willemse has settled into a teaching position, he gets to work with a wide range of students with different interests. He is really excited to help guide different students through the process of learning different skills, expressing ideas, and discovering new interests. He explains, “I think the biggest take-away that I try for every student is to have a different perspective from when they came in.” Willemse continues, saying he wants his students to “understand something through seeing it and interpreting it and then expressing it. It’s important because it’s their fundamentals of art.”
Elise Riddelll (‘22), a heavily involved art student, explained that when she first met Willemse was during his interview process. From the start, she saw great technical skills in figure drawing. However, after working with him a little more this year on creating an art club she noticed more qualities like how much effort he’s willing to put in to keep and expand the inclusive art community.
Gavin Smith (‘25) has experienced Willemse teaching in the Intro to Art class and is so far enjoying the class. Smith says he has improved a lot in his drawing, and also thinks the lessons are fun. Although transitioning into a new school and community can be difficult, Smith thinks that Willemse is transitioning very smoothly. The class environment with Willemse is described by Smith to be “a mix of energy and productivity.”
Willemse agrees that the transition to a new district is going well, especially considering everyone currently working in the department is new. He explains, “we are all new, so I’m not modeling myself after someone who has it down perfectly. We are all just learning and relearning. I’m in the same boat as everyone in the department right now. Once [Rosi] gets back I can’t wait to be a part [of a program] with someone professional who has been [teaching for] about 15 years. I think I’ll learn some mistakes I was making while on my training wheels here while learning the whole department.” Although getting to know everyone has been a challenge, this has also been a highlight of teaching for Mr. Willemse. He’s excited to continue this process and make some art.
Plourde teaches Advanced Art, Senior Studio, and Pottery I and II, and has been working with art for a long time. She started college with a minor in art at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) then soon after transferred to Rochester Institute of Technology school for American crafts to get her bachelors in Ceramic Sculpture and Pottery. After that, she decided that she wanted to get more education and become a teacher so she went on to get her Masters of Teaching in art at Rhode Island School of Design. Now Plourde has twelve years of teaching behind her, starting with two years in northern New Hampshire, two more in Colorado, eight years at private New Hampshire schools, and now here.
Plourde loves teaching. She explains that “being with students, inspiring students, and having students working around me is also very inspiring for me as an artist. I love being able to be in a school where the arts are very respected and thought about. I think the art department is going to thrive because of that.” Plourde was interested in coming to ORHS because she was instantly impressed with people’s talent and focus in art, she explains. “I love how kind everybody is. Everyone wanted to get in the class and create art, love the culture of the open space, and collaborate and be welcoming.”
Plourde believes art is a great and important way to express ideas and oneself. In her classes she tries to help communicate student ideas. She shares, “I want them to feel like they have their own voice and to express that through different mediums. I want to be someone that can just provide them the materials and some constructive criticism for their vision and their voice. I feel like in this day and age right now there’s a lot of us that have something to say. I just want to help them to be able to do that and to find the best way to do that visually.”
Ella Daniels (‘22), a student taking advanced art and an aspiring art school student, explains that she’s seen that in her teaching and thinks she’s doing a good job transitioning into the new teaching position. “It’s definitely a new energy. I think that she brings a lot of new skills and a whole different mindset and viewpoints that I never really thought about before. So it will be interesting to see how the rest of the year goes and how she handles a bunch of new students. She’s doing pretty good so far.”
Even though transitioning into a new community is difficult, Plourde is really excited for this opportunity and to be meeting people. She has some goals for the art department so that students can get the most out of the environment. She explains, “some goals I have off the bat are just to organize this space so that we can utilize it a little more effectively and provide what we need to for all sorts of students trying to get to different levels in their art career. I would love to be able to offer an Advanced 3-D Sculpture [class] if [it’s] wanted.” Plourde’s main goal is to collaborate with art teachers and create a welcoming space for everybody that will help artists grow.
Daniels and Riddell describe the art room as a home, productive space, and inclusive place to work. It’s also an important space to gain skills, have a creative outlet, and express yourself. Other students really feel the same way in that this space is important to them. It’s important for the community to be kept, continued, and grown which is why the district is lucky to have hired teachers that have the same mind set from the previous teachers.
In the hiring process, Mark Milliken, the dean of students, was looking for teachers who could make a good team, bring different skills, and connect well with students. Milliken explained that he saw that from the teachers from the beginning “they came into the art room with kids and created a lesson and taught a lesson. The thing we liked about both of them was how kid-centered they were in how they really wanted to connect with our students and get to know their students. If you think about it, it’s an awkward situation. A new school, new kids you’ve never had and you have these adults watching you. They did very well, they were comfortable, they were creative, they were friendly and engaging with our kids and the kids really liked them.”
Students Riddell and Daniels hope that the new teachers can really get the chance to connect with them and other students. Daniels explains, “I want them to be able to share their own experiences and thoughts on doing things because I know I’m getting ready for college and having a different viewpoint and suggestions on my own profile would be helpful for college.”
The art teachers are so excited to teach and share their love of art and learn from students and experience at Oyster River. Plourde and Willemse are still working on meeting people, organizing, and getting comfortable. As they do that, these two teachers are getting better and transforming the art scene. Art potential is booming in the art rooms, so say hello to new teachers Plourde and Willemse and keep out for material coming out of the art room.