Rising from Scratch: The Remarkable Journey of CalColor Teen Program

Written by
Rain, Edited by: Karen
October 18, 2023
Teacher Spotlight
CalColor News
Awards & Recognition
12 min read

On January 26, 2023, the highly anticipated art competition, Scholastic, announced its winners, and CalColor Academy emerged victorious in the Bay Area region with:

28 Gold Keys

43 Silver Keys

81 Honorable Mentions

The news of these accomplishments flooded inboxes, with both parents and students sharing their excitement. When asked about the successes of the Teen Program, its lead teacher, Mr. Alvin, offered a humble yet profound response: "It's all thanks to the teamwork." Behind this short statement lies the incredible growth of this small team. Each teacher's commitment, both inside and outside the classroom, has played a crucial role in this journey.

Teen programs teachers

Rising Against the Storm,Answering the Call: the inception of Teen Program

Before July 2020, CalColor had achieved remarkable success in younger children's art programs, but there was no special program for kids aged 11 and older. As children reach this age group, they often encounter growing academic challenges, with some of them wondering if they should still commit time to art. During the challenging period of the COVID-19 lockdowns, the number of older children at CalColor significantly declined.

The school turned to Mr. Alvin, who at that time was a manager at the Newark campus, to lead the program for older students. Mr. Alvin knew that students who wanted to continue pursuing art at this age truly loved it. They aspired to showcase their talents and creativity effectively in college applications and, in some cases, aimed to pursue art as a future major or career. All that was needed was a special program to help them get there. In just a single summer, Mr. Alvin diligently researched art college admissions, AP Art guidelines, official websites of national art competitions, etc. He designed numerous lesson plans and even used his commuting time to listen to YouTube discussions on portfolio experiences.

"I needed to update my knowledge about each college, understand the latest trends in admissions, to provide the most effective advice for the students' portfolios. Working 80 hours a week, often going to bed around one or two in the morning, and waking up at six to prepare meals and take my child to kindergarten became a routine," said Mr. Alvin. 
Mr.Alvin with his students

In August 2020, both the Portfolio Development (PD) course and the Elite course were officially launched. The PD course is designed for older students focusing on college admissions and competitions, while the Elite course is tailored for the intensive development of exceptionally talented younger students. Although these two courses are facing different age groups, they share similar teaching challenges: each class is filled with a high intensity of knowledge points, and they both have highly personalized projects.

Portfolio Development Students' Works

Mr. Alvin is the ideal choice for both the Portfolio and Elite classes. He's not just a talented artist but also great at understanding different artistic styles. He inspires each student, is patient, and is diligent with tracking their artistic growth. Many times, Mr. Alvin stays late to help students work through their design ideas. The teacher-student connection in the Portfolio class goes beyond the classroom – he's always there to respond to students' requests and help them with their unfinished artwork.

Elite Class Students' works

In December 2020, Ms. Rain joined CalColor, bringing with her a wealth of experience, including the authorship of ten books and five years of teaching in the Bay Area. After sitting in on Mr. Alvin's class, her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. "This is like a college-prep course, seriously! The teacher gives spot-on advice, and these kids have some next-level art skills and maturity. The whole class just clicks, you know?" said Ms. Rain.

Ms.Rain’s with her students

Ms. Rain values not just the systematic teaching method at CalColor but also the program's down-to-earth vibe since its early days. Despite having the new Portfolio and Elite classes now, Mr. Alvin shared a challenge with Ms. Rain: many students in the Portfolio Class lacked the fundamental skills needed for effective art creation. Even though they have fantastic ideas, turning ideas into reality was a struggle. The pressing need was to establish an effective drawing curriculum as a pre-requisition for the Portfolio class. 

Ms. Rain’s creative approach to solve this problem was to create a class that blends “practice” and “final/creative projects.'' Because she believes that observing teacher demonstrations has an irreplaceable and intuitive effect on students' progress, during “practice” sessions, she would focus on helping guide students stroke by stroke, day after day. After practicing their technical skills, the students would then be given the freedom to create their own “final/ creative projects” using the newly learned techniques. Throughout this process, Ms. Rain would also engage in deep conversations with each child to understand their creative inspiration and style for each student's unique piece. 

Hence, the Portfolio Prep Drawing class was started in January 2021. Since then, it has received praise and grown the Teen program. Ms. Rain teaches a large class of 15 students, and within the limited class time, she provides 1-on-1 guidance to each child. The students have been happily surprised by the significant progress they've made in such a short time, boosting their confidence in their future art studies.

PDP Drawing Class Students' Works

 Wings Growing Strong, Ambitions Unfold: A Maturing Team

A comprehensive art education program consists of both form and color. Drawing class perfectly covers issues related to shapes, values, and sense of volume for our students. However, the Teen Program needed a course that could enhance students' understanding and sensitivity about color. That's why the PD Prep Painting course was also added  to the Teen Program's development plan.

Mr. Chao's daily life

In the summer of 2021, the Teen team welcomed a new member: Mr. Chao. He brought with him a wealth of experience, holding dual master's degrees, remarkable art exhibition experience, and experience teaching at Universities. Chao is a dedicated artist who sticks to his artistic principles, and he's brought a fresh perspective to our Teen Program Prep courses. After joining CalColor, he spent a whole semester crafting and refining the Painting course. In his view, mastering color control and expressing a unique perspective is more crucial than making objects perfectly realistic. These skills should be rooted in every young artist's journey from the very beginning. This belief is cultivated by his years of exhibition experience domestically and internationally.

Mr.Chao in passionate creation

Mr Chao explains to students carefully

This course covers profound theories and abstract concepts, which, for teenagers in their early teens, can be a bit challenging to understand. To make it more accessible, Mr. Chao frequently utilized visual learning techniques by highlighting famous works of art. 

While the Painting course is quite different from the Drawing course, they complement each other from an overall perspective, ensuring that the student's learning experience remains engaging and enriching.

PDP Painting Students' Works

A year later, Mr. Sean joined the Teen team at CalColor. Mr. Sean is a sketching guru: he has published over a dozen sketchbooks and has taught students all across the nation. On occasion, he will bring in his big roll of his sketches from over the years and every teacher is astonished. Such skill and fluency in sketching could only result from years of nonstop dedication. 

Mr.Sean in sketch creation

Mr.Sean with his student

After meeting Mr. Sean and seeing his unique insights and qualifications, the idea of a separate sketching course was sparked. This not only aligns with the trends of many universities requiring sketchbook submissions but also helps students express themselves more wholeheartedly. Sketching is a means of documenting daily life, often showcasing a student's sensitive perception and agility.

Sean's hard work extends to his respect for teaching. His way of helping students is unique. Instead of directly changing their drawings, he uses small sticky notes with the right instructions, allowing students to fix their mistakes independently. It also serves as a "bookmark," reminding them of key areas to focus on.

In the fall of 2022, the Sketchbook Workshop was created. This course allowed students of all ages to experience the fun of sketching in a short time.

Sketchbook Students' Works

Along with Mr. Sean, Ms. Ariana joined the team. Ms. Ariana holds dual master's degrees in oil painting and has 6 years of teaching experience. Ariana's art style is more flexible: switching between classic realism and modern aesthetics easily, combining Eastern and Western influences. Because of her broad skillset, she is a great fit to teach Portfolio Development. 

Ms.Ariana with her students

She often time goes beyond the scope of her role as a teacher to help students. For example, she will help students with art that they create outside of her class. Ms. Ariana also focuses on the students' portfolios as a whole. She seeks the opinions of other teachers to achieve the best student results. Her classroom is filled with passion and responsibility allowing her students to continuously discover their potential and produce remarkable artworks.

PDP Painting Students' Works

Tracing Back and Soaring High: Looking Back and Forward

The name "Teen Program" was chosen during the preparations for the first webinar at the end of 2020. That webinar was the debut of the Teen Program, and all the subsequent webinars have consistently witnessed the growth of this team:

  • At the end of 2020: a roadmap was prepared for the students to plan their portfolios early, and the foundational PD Prep course system was established.

  • In spring 2021, a system was set up to track how kids are doing with their portfolios. We made personalized plans for each student based on which college and major they wanted to study. We tracked their process and made sure they met all deadlines. 

  • At the end of 2021, we decided to work together as a team to make sure each student's portfolio was up to standard. We talked about each student's progress during our meetings and searched for areas of improvement/ growth.
  • In the fall of 2022, we improved our PD Prep courses, focusing on drawing, painting, and sketchbook. More teachers joined, and we had weekly meetings to share information about our classes, homework, and teaching experiences. We also started preparing for the Scholastic competition.

  • Starting in 2023, the Teen Program achieved great success. We won many awards in the Scholastic competition, and many students were accepted into prestigious art colleges. We are looking forward to more exciting things to happen.

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