Rhode scholars

In all of Mike Kauffman's 16 years at La Cañada High School, as an art teacher and department chair of Visual Art, he has never seen anything like this.

"This is just ridiculous, unheard of really," Kauffman said.

When nine students from one school apply to the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the most prestigious art schools in the country, there are expectations of more rejections than acceptance letters.

"On a good year, it is like one or maybe two students get accepted there," Kauffman said.

Six of nine students from LCHS who applied to RISD received acceptance letters, and five of those students, Julie Chon, Jessica Hyun Kim, Ka Yun Lee, Ji Young Grace Shin and Zoe McWatters, will be attending there in the fall.

"This is not very common at all," RISD admissions officer Leon Paul Hovanesian said. "We are a very selective school, so that is a very high rate of applicants being accepted."

Hovanesian said RISD's acceptance rate is 28% to 30%, while 67% of the applicants from LCHS' Class of 2010 were accepted.

McWatters has been admitted into the dual-degree program RISD has with Brown University, which is even more unlikely, with fewer than 20 students accepted each year.

"That's the reason why La Cañada has been so spectacular overall," Hovanesian said. "To get that many students to RISD is unprecedented and is a banner year. And to have someone admitted to the dual program is phenomenal."

McWatters had to undergo and two selection processes. Now she will simultaneously be attending Brown and RISD, essentially earning two degrees. Her first year is spent at RISD and the second at Brown.

Kauffman said he knew this group was special right off the bat. They jumped straight to advanced courses as freshmen, which is rare at LCHS.

"I've never had a class like that," he said. "It doesn't surprise me. I knew they were all going to get into some great schools, but I had no idea they were all going to go to Rhode Island."

The students' maturity and pure love and passion for art set them apart, Kauffman said. He realized they were headed in a different direction with their art because their work was of a caliber he'd never seen.

Kauffman said the art program at LCHS seeks to build a strong foundation for students that sequentially builds on essential skills for artists.

"It's good for them and the best way to learn instead of randomly jumping around," Kauffman said. "You want to have some flow in your program. We think it's working."

Students at LCHS can take a number of art classes, including art foundations, advanced art one and two, independent projects and an art portfolio class, which can be taken repeatedly. Kauffman said they also hope to add an AP studio art class in 2011 and a sculpture class in the future.

"We are always looking to expand," Kauffman said. "We like to take risks and try new things. We don't like to stay put; we like to move."


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