Students teaching teachers: The Poppy Project


Photo used with permission from Cynthia Vaught.

Senior Deanna Blasko and junior Courtney Luse teaching Craig Keith, Assistant Superintendent, and Heidi Kegley, Superintendent, how to make ceramic poppies.

Kamryn Drake, Staff Writer

This year, ceramics teacher Cynthia Vaught has started making a “Gratitude Garden” full of ceramic poppies and stones created by not only students but staff members as well.
Millions of ceramic poppies are spread across the moat in the Tower of London. Paul Cummins, the creator of “The Poppy Project,” first started this project to commemorate soldiers who died in WWI.
The project was focused on positive psychology. Vaught said that in a class, she was talking about being a calm and happy teacher, and that her main focus was trying to get teachers to create a positive environment for them and their students.
“The strengths jar was the first thing I did from the class and it’s about getting kids to focus on what they’re good at,” Vaught said. “Which is what I wanted them to focus on with this project as well.”
On March 16, ceramics students made handcrafted poppies and stones thinking about what they were grateful for. Vaught said that once the poppies and stones are hardened in the kiln, they will be spray painted and put in the courtyard.
Vaught told her students that they could have the opportunity to bring in a teacher of their choosing to teach them how to make these projects.
“Part of this class is also about relationships, student relationships with adults and each other,” Vaught said. “I thought it’d be really cool to have kids teach the adults, you know, and just reverse roles and build relationships that way.”
Vaught sent out an email to all Hayes staff members, encouraging them to stop by the art room and create these poppies with the students. Included were language arts teacher Ariel Uppstrom, school nurse Eileen Duffy and librarian Sarah Ressler; all came down to make these ceramic pieces.
Uppstrom made poppies and stones with one of her students, junior Corey Belote.
“Teachers have very limited options for when we get to work with kids unless it’s after school,” Uppstrom said. “And so it was really nice to see [Belote] in a space that he clearly liked.”
“It was just nice to spend time with him in a different space,” Uppstrom said.
Both Belote and Uppstrom felt the experience created a bond between them.
“It’s a lot harder than it seems because I can explain to you how to do it, I just can’t do it that well,” Belote said. “It made me grow a lot of respect for teachers as well, because it really showed me how it is hard for them to explain to us what to do, because we all learn very differently.”
Uppstrom said Belote did a good job of explaining the process. “You don’t necessarily always have to be perfect at doing it yourself, but you have to be able to explain to somebody else,” she said.
Along with Uppstrom, other staff members recounted a good experience.
“It was nice to be present as equals,” Duffy said. “I really thought it built our relationship even more. It’s like we have this in common now.”
Although Vaught’s original intention was to get students to focus on what they’re good at, participants said there were other benefits, too.
“I think it’s really important that there is the opportunity for people to get out of their element,” Duffy said. “When you’re in a classroom or in the clinic, there’s a power thing: I’m in control of you to some extent. But in that situation, you share an experience and you share authority.”
Vaught said that before spring break, she hopes to have all the pieces fired so that she can later spray-paint the poppies and start building this garden.
“I want to start putting them in concentric circles around the tree,” Vaught said. “Then, by the end of the year, I’d like to have a significant part of [the garden] done.”
On March 17, superintendent Heidi Kegley and assistant superintendent Craig Heath came to the ceramics class to build ceramics pieces with two students.
Kegley made a poppy with senior Deanna Blasko, while Heath created a poppy with junior Courtney Luse.
“I think it was a perfect opportunity to interact with students and an experience,” Kegley said. “We think about gratitude and how grateful I am to the staff, students and families always, but especially through this project.”
Original video of the Poppy Project