WEST MARIN SCHOOL | West Marin
At first glance, Colleen Conley’s classroom at West Marin School seems like a typical art room. Reference books line the shelves, student art is papered everywhere, and each wall of art reflects a different age group and skill level. When the kids arrive, that familiar feeling of an ordinary classroom instantly vanishes. The children exude an excitement that is palpable as they rush to Colleen, begging to know what activities are in store for the day. They don adult-sized moss-green t-shirts that double as smocks, and creativity bursts from their small bodies as they begin their painting project. Students in Colleen’s art classes work on clay, printmaking, drawing and painting, collage, murals, and sets for plays and performances. It’s their time to get messy.
West Marin School, where Colleen teaches, is an inviting and thriving school campus. Sharing students with Inverness Elementary, West Marin School serves 142 students from kindergarten to eighth grade under the geographic umbrella of the Shoreline Unified School District. Every teacher works at both the Point Reyes Station and Inverness locations. While there are obvious similarities to most public schools, West Marin School in particular possesses the resiliency of a strong community, staff, and a committed, well-loved principal.
Among Colleen’s favorite programs are Family Art Nights, when parents make art with their children, typically simple holiday crafts like greeting cards or wrapping paper for Christmas or Valentine’s Day. “Parents and children are socializing and making art, hanging out,” she says. “It’s a social event that allows for art-making and a relaxing time.”
“Kids come at lunch and work on projects they’re excited about or kids just come in to make something in one sitting. It’s a place where they feel comfortable,” says Colleen, who has been the art teacher at West Marin School for 31 years. In 1984, she joined the school as a volunteer, keeping the struggling art program alive with a few other parents. After the California parcel tax was enacted in the late 80s, which increased state-wide funding for the art program, West Marin School’s art classes began to thrive and Colleen was hired as the full-time art teacher. Among Colleen’s favorite programs are Family Art Nights, when parents make art with their children--typically simple holiday crafts like greeting cards or wrapping paper for Christmas or Valentine’s Day. “Parents and children are socializing and making art, hanging out,” she says. “It’s a social event that allows for art-making and a relaxing time.”
As Colleen builds relationships with her students and watches them grow, Colleen is not only an artistic guide for the kids who pass through her daily 45-minute class but also their friend. She is thrilled when she hears from former students who are still making art, those who took her classes one step further. In fact, Point Reyes native Ido Yoshimoto, an Edition Local artist, is one of Colleen’s former students.
“The kids are so fortunate to have art in their lives. They appreciate it and come in ready to play,” Colleen says, regarding the enthusiastic spirit of the kids in her classroom. They always ask ‘What are we doing today?’ That inspires me to go to work every day. That keeps me going.”