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Penfield Students React to The Happy Survivor

By Susan Dodge-Peters Daiss, The McPherson Director of Education

vanmaanen-0151In recent years, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien has been a favorite reading assignments in the 11th grade English Language Arts curriculum. Discovering this last fall, and anticipating the upcoming exhibition Gregory Van Maanen: The Happy Survivor (January 25-March 29, 2009), the Education Department of the Memorial Art Gallery worked closely with Ms. Dina Stathopoulos, an ELA teacher at Penfield High School, to design a project that would challenge the students to consider points of intersection between the work of the two Vietnam Veterans. Following a “Critical Lens” format used in Regents exams, Ms. Stathopoulos asked the students to compare O’Brien’s novel and Van Maanen’s artwork.

Van Maanen’s images were made available to the students through their school computers and free passes to the exhibition were distributed to encourage them to experience the work itself.

vanmaanen-0174The essays selected for publication on Memorial Art Gallery’s blog were chosen by June Avignone, a writer who is also the wife of artist Gregory Van Maanen. In choosing two out of ten essays, Avignone acknowledged that the choice was difficult and stressed that all of the essays she read showed great promise. Van Maanen, who also read all the essays, referred to them all as “winners.”

“Author and Artist Use Artistic Talent as Outlet for Thoughts and Feelings about Vietnam War”

“Van Maanen and O’Brien’s Art Shares Pain and Aches War Impresses Upon Human Psyche.”


Comment from Jessica Marten
Time: April 22, 2009, 8:43 am

These are excellent response essays! I would have been thrilled to get this quality of work from my students when I taught art at the college level. Is there any reason why the authors of the winning essays can’t have their name attached to their work?

Comment from Susan Daiss
Time: April 22, 2009, 11:16 am

I agree–these are fabulous essays! The decision to name the students only by numbers was the school’s–following privacy restrictions.

Comment from Dina Stathopoulos
Time: April 27, 2009, 1:11 pm

Thank you for your wonderful comments I will share them with my students. The decision to number the essays was mine. I wanted the students to remain anonymous on the web. This was an excellent opportunity to provide the students will a real audience, an authentic assessment and they were excited about it.

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