Club offers safe space, acceptance for those seeking expression through art

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By Donna Lane

“Blessed are the weird people: poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters, troubadours, for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.”

—Jacob Nordby


Recently, a group of Brownell Middle School students felt there needed to be a four-way stop near their school where many children walk each day. These students were inspired to collect signatures on a petition. But although the intersection is still an ongoing issue, it spawned something even bigger: a welcoming space for students who want to go beyond the limits of their school curriculum.

They call themselves the Renaissance Club. They meet daily during lunch in Room 16, where teacher Rick Charvet dispenses his unique wisdom and guidance. A sign proclaiming, “Blessed Are the Weird,” a reference to Boise author Jacob Nordby’s popular manifesto for creatives, hangs by the door. A little advice to tuck into the subconscious as students leave Charvet’s modern-day salon of sorts. While other students use the back of Charvet’s classroom as a “safe space” during the lunch hour, Renaissance Club members gather near the front to talk about visual and performing art projects. The discussion is supportive, with Charvet offering suggestions and students proposing ideas.

Club member Mia McCarthy said, “This club is full of people who want to make connections and change things. The crosswalk/four-way stop, for example, is still in progress, but we’ve got a petition full of signatures. That’s just the beginning step.”

Brandon Araraki said, “The Renaissance Club will help students with interaction skills and the ability to work with other people.”

For some, it’s one of the few places they feel comfortable. Creative types — Nordby’s weird misfits, if you will — can be misunderstood, especially as youths. Having a place to go where they’re accepted can have an enormous impact. The Renaissance Club provides that.

Meanwhile, the group is putting its heads together to organize a talent show, publish an arts and literature magazine, and discover other creative ways to solve real world problems.

“This is about creating an outlet,” Charvet explained. “A lot of people wanted a school play, but that can be limiting. So they had the idea to have a talent show, incorporating kids with different talents.”

Student Jazlynn Miller said, “It’s really cool when people show their talents. Maybe a friend will show you something no one knew they could do.”

Charvet believes the talent show and the art-lit magazine can satisfy a need for these students, many of whom may feel like the proverbial square peg at a time when finding a place to fit in is crucial to self-esteem. The lack of opportunity for creative expression can be isolating.

“There are no longer art classes,” said Charvet, who was an art teacher early in his nearly 30-year teaching career, all of it in Gilroy. “Now if you get caught drawing in class, you’ll probably get in trouble. With electives like art, kids learn different ways of solving problems. This is about giving kids an outlet to apply those problem-solving skills.”

During a recent Renaissance Club discussion about the art-lit magazine, Charvet asked the students, “Have any of you ever been involved in planning something, or used your educated mind to plan something?”

Every student said no, but thanks to the encouragement they give each other, that lack of experience wasn’t a deterrent.

“We’ll figure it out,” someone said, and the meeting swiftly continued.

Middle school is a critical time for a child’s emotional health and the confidence that comes from a student’s ability to express himself or herself through a variety of constructive outlets. While test scores and grades are important, they don’t represent the whole student. The common element of the curriculum that was sorely missing for these students was art, in some form or another. It didn’t take long for Charvet to recognize a potential solution.

“There’s more to school than reading, writing, and math,” Charvet said. “Kids are like sponges. They go to town with this stuff.”

Right now, the talent show and art-lit magazine are still in their planning stages, with interest and ideas flowing. They hope to have the talent show after the holiday break and put out the magazine toward the end of the school year. But those projects are just the beginning.

“The club will give us (students) a chance to do something outside the box rather than passively sitting, listening to someone talk,” said Alonso Montoya. “It will give students the chance to do things we normally cannot do. We will have the opportunity to make change in ourselves and in our community.”

Ryan Young, who likes to write, said, “This club is a place where artists and writers can spread their talents. It’s important to have this, to be able to show people what you can do. Maybe some people are depressed. You can make them smile with a funny comic.”

Daisey Morris said she likes to draw and do a little writing. On the shy side, she said she’s working on a story with a friend.

“You’re a really good artist,” Isaac Adams told her. Expressing support for fellow creatives is what the Renaissance Club is all about. He added, “Mr. Charvet is the most inspiring person I’ve ever met. When he came here, 20 or 30 years ago, there were lots of clubs and electives. Now, it’s only before or after school.”

Charvet is quick to back out of the spotlight. “I’m just the catalyst,” he said. “I can facilitate things, help with logistics. I like to help kids find ways to succeed with creative solutions.”

In doing so, the Renaissance Club helps students succeed beyond the classroom, too.

McCarthy said, “This club has done a lot for me. During class, I can barely hear anything. It’s too loud and I can’t share what I’m thinking. Before this year, I never thought about making connections. I’m slowly progressing on making connections with new friends, but also with the world around me.”

Blessed are the weird, indeed.

Marty Cheek