Chris Bronstad and Richard Miller both teach science and art at Key Peninsula Middle School. Both believe the two fields are essential and intertwined, even as state and national standards push students closer to tech-based education.
Miller’s academic pursuits began with a photography scholarship. He did a year of photography in a fine arts program and, while he loved the medium, he doubted his chances of earning a good living at it. He changed course and earned a medical degree, went on to work in scientific research and later founded a successful technology consulting business with his wife. In their very brief retirement, both decided to go back to school to pursue a second career He earned a master’s degree in education and has been teaching at KPMS for the last five years.
Miller teaches science, robotics, 3-D and CAD drawing in addition to providing enrichment classes for advanced students at KPMS. Last year was his first teaching photography and the students responded well. Bobbie Worden, then a seventh-grader, won first place in a Pierce County Library contest out of more than 1,000 entries (KP News, June 2016).
“A huge movement for STEM-focused instruction began about 15 years ago, but now we’re hearing more calls for integration of the arts, thus ‘STEAM’—bringing in more arts to balance science,” Miller said. (STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math.)
“We start with the principles of composition, to the technicalities of the camera and then we go on to shooting images, which includes lots of assignments,” Miller said. “In the portraits, students are aiming to see their souls.”
Peninsula School District Superintendent Rob Manahan had his official portrait taken by KPMS students this year. “The kids really like doing portraits, working in teams, adjusting the lighting for differing effects, all working to achieve the kind of photo the subject feels best expresses them,” Miller said. “These students are really doing college level portrait photography.”
Seventh-grader Shannon Bundrick took Miller’s photography class in the first trimester and loved it. “At the time, my hair was purple and that day it wasn’t behaving very well, but Mr. Miller let me mess with the photo color and I noticed it really looked like one of those old photos,” she said.
When asked if she thought the photo captured her personality, Shannon said, “I really like helping out here at school and I’m often the moral support for many of my friends so, yeah, I think it turned out pretty well.”
Chris Bronstad has been teaching for 28 years. The longtime science and award-winning art teacher believes the two subjects are deeply connected, since both disciplines require natural curiosity, observation and experimentation to achieve results.
“Science is analytical, involving numbers and data, but it’s also big-picture stuff, seeing patterns, which is very right brain,” he said. “To say that one is exclusive of the other just isn’t the case.”
One of his students, seventh-grader Francesca “Frankie” Kelley, was working on a portrait based on “Star Wars: Rogue One” characters, using double-ended markers on canvas in a recent class. Bronstad gave feedback on elements of her work, praising her compositional strengths and use of color while suggesting some highlighting techniques to give greater depth to the facial features. Frankie quickly went to the internet to find the exact image she used as her inspiration to better “see” what Bronstad knew from years of experience was there.
“The kids who impress me the most are the ones who are willing to take instruction, but they’re also willing to take risks to try something else,” he said.
In addition to his KPMS classes, Bronstad teaches at a district program called Career and Pathway Expo (CAPE), a STEM-focused workshop targeting middle school girls to generate more interest and exposure to careers in science and technology.
“I’ve taught a workshop the last three years on scientific illustration at CAPE, which is held at Harbor Ridge Middle School in April,” he said. “We work on drawing shells, feathers and stuff. The class is always packed and they love it.
“Whether girls or boys, at this age, they love drawing,” Bronstad said. “We definitely have KPMS kids bound for SOTA (School of the Arts in Tacoma). And KPMS students headed for careers in science and technology as well.”