ENID, Oklahoma— A poster displayed prominently in a classroom at Oklahoma Bible Academy quotes Albert Einstein saying, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.
The room is filled with long tables, chairs, and a bit of clutter in the corners as evidence of ongoing and completed projects. As you step further in, award plaques command attention and you know you’ve entered a special place: the creative space of art and photography teacher Layce Russell and its award-winning students.
Manager Andy Wilkins said he knew she needed a bigger room. Six years ago, Russell started teaching grades 6 through 12, a total of four students, but now she has 20 students and a waiting list for the program.
Russell earned an MFA and always intended to teach college, which she did for several years. But, her lawyer husband got a job in Enid, and she ended up in OBA.
“There’s not much difference in teaching my students and those in middle school, except that those older students were first influenced by someone else,” Russell said.
Now she influences and teaches young artists, many of whom have become award winners in their genres. Three of his students have won the State Superintendent of Visual Arts Award in the past two years. Five students earned perfect grades with the AP College Board. This is a worldwide test, and only 219 of the over 180,000 scores are perfect.
It’s also normal for her students to audition and qualify for arts programs and events like Momentum and the Oklahoma Art Institute‘s summer program at Quartz Mountain Lodge. Last year she had three students in the summer program and two students participated in the previous two years.
Students excited about art, the future
One of his most promising students was visual arts student Jackson Morgan. He was accepted to study in the Quartz Mountain program in photography. He is now a freshman in the photography and film program at Oklahoma City University.
Another award-winning student, Parker Schovanec, received a full four-year scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia this year. He applied to the school, was accepted, and then was offered a scholarship after seeing his portfolio of work.
Schovanec started with Russell in seventh grade and said she helped him both discover and develop his talent.
“She pushed me but supported me,” Schovanec said, “always there to answer my questions.”
Schovanec has never been to Savannah and fears leaving the area where he has always lived.
“My parents are pretty scared too, but this is a great opportunity,” he said. “I’m not sure of my way, but I can’t wait to find out where I’m going.”
He said it was helpful to go to the summer programs at Quartz Mountain.
“It helped me get out of my comfort zone and explore new things.”
Reagan Redelsperger, a junior, presents two works of art at Momentum, an event in Oklahoma City featuring artists 30 and under. The unique exhibition was created for artists to gain experience and meet new audiences.
Redelsperger said she felt fully prepared for the burgeoning world of art.
“Ms. Russell has been my art teacher since sixth grade,” she said. “He is a trusted mentor and his art program has been exceptional for my personal growth into becoming a young female artist. I am so grateful for the teaching I received from her.
Another of his students, seventh grader Ramey Wilkins, was the youngest recipient of the Silver Key award, the oldest and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens.
Learn, laugh, have fun
But in Russell’s mind, the OBA’s arts program isn’t just about awards.
“In the art room, we are a family. I want students to learn, laugh and have fun. We always have music in the room and the middle schoolers have Beatles Friday so they can learn about the classics.
It’s important to Russell, she said, that students take ownership of their work and not borrow from the internet. To promote this idea, students organize photo days where they take and develop their own original images and work.
“Some kids don’t know where they fit in,” Russell said, “so they’re encouraged to find their talent, to discover themselves in an atmosphere of fun and support.”
Some of the students move away from the art department, returning later to rediscover their creativity.
Zoe Holmes was one such student.
“I felt stressed, and it’s a fun place,” Holmes said, adding that she plans to take an AP photography course next year as a senior and plans to study forensics at the University. university.
Russell said she would like to develop her creative enthusiasm and talents in a community arts center and could see one flourish and create opportunities in Enid.
“It would be wonderful to see different arts programs and local theaters all in one place,” she said.
If she were to get involved in this type of endeavor, most likely, based on her students’ reviews, there would be laughter and fun in addition to art.
Until then, you’ll find Layce Russell in his special place, the creative space down the hall from Oklahoma Bible Academy.