Jaylon Virgil's drawing, "Tiger," is included in a student art exhibit at Montpelier Mansion.
Jaylon Virgil's drawing, "Tiger," is included in a student art exhibit at Montpelier Mansion. (Submitted drawing)

Assembling a showcase of more than 20 student sketches, drawings and paintings has proven a fruitful experience for the educators at Montpelier Mansion and for students from Chesapeake Math and IT Academy, located just two miles from the museum in West Laurel.

CMIT's annual student art exhibit — currently on display through Feb. 20 in the circa-1780 house museum's central passageway — is appearing in Laurel for the first time.

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A Prince George's County Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics public charter school operated by the Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, the new academy opened in 2011.

CMIT Academy is modeled after its award-winning sister school,Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School in Hanover. In 2013,more than 90 percent of CMIT's middle school students tested higher than state averages on the Maryland State Assessment for math and reading.

Visual arts teacher Gloria Graham, who's been teaching 11 to 14–year–oldsat CMIT for two years, said the STEM public charter school's first student exhibit was housed at Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington last winter.

The Harmony Hall exhibit was well received and, at the suggestion of a peer at CMIT, Graham said she reached out in December to museums in hopes of arranging this year's exhibit.

She contacted the Montpelier Arts Center, who referred her to Prince George's County Parks and Recreation staff at the restored Montpelier Mansion — a National Historic Landmark where George Washington and Abigail Adams once stayed as guests of Anne and Thomas Snowden, members of a prominent Maryland family.

Museum educator Mary Jurkiewicz and office manager Ann Wagner said they were unaware of CMIT's presence in Laurel until Graham called;and they were happy to collaborate with a STEM charter school.

Jurkiewicz said she feels teaching history is sometimes regarded as secondary to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM education, particularly in Prince George's County.

"This is the challenge we face," Jurkiewicz said. "I find it baffling because you learn about all of those [STEM] things through history.

"Do you not study a scientist, historically?" she said. "And you learn about the science. When it comes to art, do you not study an artist through history?"

Graham said she aspires to provide her students an appreciation of art within a well-rounded education, and that she recognizes the educational value of the displays at the mansion and loves working with the people there.

"The educators at Montpelier Mansion have given me the opportunity to share and to develop a community partnership," Graham said. "I find this awesome."

Graham said the opening reception held on Jan. 9 drew more than 30 students and family members. She encouraged a discussion of the elements and techniques on display and said her students learned to articulate suggestions and critiques in an authentic exhibit setting.

According to Jurkiewicz,this was the first visit to the museum for all of the Jan. 9 attendees; Graham said they were impressed by the discovery.

"You can come here and you can learn about science,"Jurkiewicz said."You can learn about architecture and archeology."

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According to Graham, the art exhibit also led to opportunities for two of her students to submit work to the Montpelier Arts Center (located onsite in a separate structure), and that two,so far, have enrolled in Saturday art classes there.

Thirteen-year-old Jaden Keels, of Laurel, who drew Dr.Seuss's "Cat in the Hat," said he loves drawing, painting and sculpture; and that he's really excited to have his drawing exhibited.

"It makes me feel kind of special because my drawing is in an exhibit and people pay to go see it," Keels said.

Other artwork on display was created by Autumn Williams, Belle Perez, Sarah Webb, Mia Douglas, Kerra Kingston, Angela Heywood, Gabrielle McDonald,Katherine Yeagley, Sydney Hill,Sha-Sha Adekoya, Emanuel Loga, Reagan Gift, Shane Catterton, Jaylon Virgil, who are sixth- through eighth- graders.

With a theme entitled "Autumn Landscapes and Scenes," the exhibit features drawings and paintings of abstracts, landscapes, animals,people, cartoons, cartoon characters and wildlife. Most were completed within a 45-minute class session.

"This has given my students the opportunity to express themselves not only at the school, but where others in the community can appreciate their art." Graham said. "And it raises awareness of CMIT Academy as a new charter school."

The CMIT annual student art exhibit (closed on Wednesdays) is open 11 a.m.–4 p.m. until Feb. 20 at Montpelier Mansion, 9650 Muirkirk Road. Adult admission costs $3; seniors 60 and older pay $2, children ages 6–18 pay $1 and children under 6 are admitted free. For more information about this and other events at Montpelier Mansion, go to mncppcapps.org.

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