The goal of Ceramics is “to fabricate and to make ideas that students design,” Lonardo said. This is a high order for a class in which most students had never even touched the basic materials until the first day. But “that’s why the stuff that comes out is really that much more amazing, because they really did not have any experience,” Lonardo said.
Procedurally, the class is simple. The first few days of a new term are devoted to learning basic skills and, more importantly, safe usage of the equipment. But after that “the majority of it is work,” Lonardo said. “I don’t tell [the students] they have to make this, but I’ll tell them they have to make something using this technique, whether sculpture, or coil, or working with casting and molds. It’s really up to the imagination and the creativity of the students.”
Ceramics is designed to encourage the creativity that some Stuyvesant classes lack. “We just have to make 15 [projects]. If I do a mosaic it is worth two projects,” senior Phoebe Lau said. The flexible requirements allow students to make just about anything they want.
Senior Rachael Biscocho has made “a whale sculpture, an elephant sculpture, two bowls, a coil pot, molds and castings from those molds, a mosaic, my own glaze, a stamp, and a trivet, [which is] a type of stand for hot pots,” Biscocho said.
Pria Islam describes some of the projects as “practical things you can use” and others as “non-practical things, like robot mosaics,” she said.
This flexibility also lets Lonardo teach any techniques he feels would be interesting. Since the class is only taught by one teacher and has never had a set curriculum, each semester is a new experience. The latest project to join the list is mosaics, and its inclusion is thanks to a student-teacher who thought it would be fun. Now it is one of the basic techniques every student is required to learn.
According to Lau, Ceramics is a time to relax in the middle of a typically stressful Stuyvesant day. “It’s not like other Stuy classes where you’re suffering every day with studying and homework. In this class you get to be really creative with stuff,” she said.
The class is not just playing with clay though. Stuyvesant has two kilns that are entirely student-operated without supervision. Students have to keep the kiln running, take pieces in and out, and ensure it is working properly. And though the majority of classroom glazes are store-bought, students learn to make their own glazes out of silica and alumina.
Ceramics has been at Stuyvesant for “as long as I can remember,” said Lonardo, who estimates the class is at least 40 years old. But despite the obvious benefits of having the class at Stuyvesant, it is scheduled to be cut due to ever-increasing budget problems and new graduation requirements. Principal Stanley Teitel plans to decrease the number of hands-on classes, including Ceramics, in favor of more technology-oriented classes like Computer Science for the Class of 2015’s new graduation requirements.
The basic dispute is over the relevancy and importance of Ceramics and other 10-Techs considered to be outdated or unnecessary. Many of the students currently in Ceramics disagree with the decision to eliminate the class, claiming it is in fact relevant in the modern world. Islam believes the class is more practical than many of the other classes at Stuyvesant, as students are more likely to use the skills they learn. “A lot of people that aren’t going to go into computer science or drafting [are] never going to use that knowledge again,” said Islam.
Lonardo, of course, also disagrees with the plan to cut Ceramics. He feels the administrators “are taking away an important aspect of a general, well-rounded education.” Ceramics is “something I think really complements the education that [the students] get here. There’s a lot of theoretical [classes at Stuyvesant], a lot of high-end academic, and here you have high-end creative [class] because [students] are immersed,” Lonardo said. “They take chemistry and here they are compounding their own glazes.”
Since Ceramics may not continue to be a part of the Stuyvesant 10-Tech curriculum, the current members of the class greatly value their time with Lonardo. The works of art they have created in the kiln will be their only tangible mementos of a more relaxed, more enjoyable class at Stuyvesant.