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The Heart of Art: Vedder and Corso

By Debarati Chowdhury

Source by Kristen Schneider

Mr. Vedder and Ms. Corso share their journey through art and experience at New Hyde Park Memorial in both their personal and work lives.

Art teachers Mr. Gregory Vedder, who has been teaching at NHP for 16 years, and Ms. Jessica Corso, who has been teaching at NHP for two years, are spotlighted this issue.

Q: How did you feel about your first year teaching at NHP?

Ms. Jessica Corso: It was definitely a journey! I absolutely loved it, though, and I think it was really the kids that made my first year so great; this is my second year teaching here, obviously very recent. I was able to collaborate and work a lot with the other art teachers like Mr. Vedder and Ms. Livoti, and the students were very helpful with integrating me into the school as well; they were teaching [me] new things, which I really appreciated. Overall, there’s a lot of hiccups like there are [in] life, but I’ve learned a lot, and it was great!

Mr. Gregory Vedder: Wow, that was a long time ago!

JC: Total opposites here!

GV: Yeah, right? It’s my 16th year here, which is crazy. My first year was definitely an eye-opener because I came from a different district. It was definitely a lot different in a better way, a lot more structured here. Like Ms. Corso said, the kids helped out, especially with coaching, advising a club, acclimating yourself and more than just being in the art room. Just seeing, meeting and working with kids that aren’t just in the art room, [but] working with kids that are all around the building was great. I like being in a big district because the Sewanhaka Central High School District is definitely different from a smaller district. The staff here is awesome, the kids are awesome, everyone here is just great! It was a seamless switch to a new school.

Q: How has your teaching experience/style changed since your first year?

GV: For me, it’s completely like back in the stone age with wooden chisels. But what was great about this district was the technology, unlike the other district I taught at where technology wasn’t a driving component to the school day. I remember when I was demonstrating at Carey High School, they had their own Proximas, like Proxima projectors, which wasn’t really everywhere 16 years ago. The technology component and the dedication of this district back then were ahead of other schools. With me being a techy, digital kind of guy, it made things easier. Now, obviously everything’s an iPad. Everything is so technologically driven now, [compared to when] we were one of the forefront leaders back then. Technology is a blessing and a curse; I say that all the time. I’ve been trying to actually go back to old-school pre-COVID ways such as physically collecting artwork and physically checking homework to try to balance it out. But it’s just grown in that way, so much with technology.

JC: So I’m the opposite of Vedder; I feel like I was born into technology. This is only my second year, so I feel like not a lot has changed. Ever since going into teaching, I feel like I have more of that student-centered mindset, where I like to let students make decisions for themselves, investigate things for themselves and really just be the facilitator for them. It really hasn’t changed much since last year, but I feel like I’m more structured now, and I have more confidence with guiding students into the right direction. So yeah, short and sweet.

Q: What inspired you to be a teacher?

JC: What inspired me were my teachers from when I was in high school. I’m sure students today struggle through high school, whether it's social or emotional things happening at home. I was one of those students, and I always wanted to be that teacher to help other students as well. Art, in general, has been a creative outlet for me to express myself, and I just want to be that person/teacher for students to do the same thing.

GV: With me, similar to I think a lot of teachers, I still remember Ms. Costanza, my high school art teacher, and my college art professor, John "Deuce" Weiss, [who] totally made me who I am. Back in high school, you find your ways and your niches, and she [Ms. Costanza] was just so awesome. In college, the same thing; my professor was so structured, and you wanted to make him proud of you, and it made you work so much harder. So when I graduated college and went into the photo world for three or four years, I didn’t want to be a teacher right out of college, but I always thought about it in the back of my mind. When I really got to it in the working world, I felt like I could help more, in a weird way, and I went back to being a teacher after being inspired by my past teachers. I quit my job and went freelance with my photography; it was scary, but it worked! I took the leap of faith, and I ended up here, and it’s been awesome.

JC: It’s really not just about the subject, but it’s just helping the whole student. That’s how I look at it as my job.

GV: Totally.

Q: What advice would you give to the new teachers in their first year teaching at NHP?

JC: To trust your gut, have confidence in yourself and just know that you're doing your best, and that’s it, simple.

GV: Time management. Time. Management. That’s something I-

JC: Setting boundaries, too.

GV: Yeah. I struggled with time management my first few years; you know, your head spins a lot, there’s a lot going on, there’s classes you want to take, workshops, teaching and grading, coaching sports, advising clubs and if you don’t manage your time throughout the school day, you take a lot of work home on weekends. After school [and during] vacations, I’d take home crates of grading to do. It was a lot, but then when you really start to structure your day and you try to spend every minute of your day getting work done, it helps you create that work-life balance a little more. Like with anything, we need that balance in life.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to include art in a student’s curriculum?

JC: Art is that class where you’re able just to express yourself and discover things about yourself. Art is also used in all other academics as well, so it’s not just learning the basic principles of designs/elements of art; there is more that goes into it throughout other areas of curriculum.

GV: Art is everywhere; you go into social studies classrooms, you see drawings on the wall; you go into English, there’s 3D dioramas that they made about a book. That’s all their art skills, and a lot of kids don’t realize when you try to stress to them that from the sneakers you put on to the cellphone you pick up in the morning, it’s all designed by an artist. And they don’t really think about that, such as ads and all these social media apps; these are all art-related careers that students don’t really think about but are constantly using.

Q: What high school and college did you attend?

GV: I went to Syosset High School and went to University of Delaware for my undergraduate, and Hofstra University for my master’s.

JC: I went to Massapequa High School, and then I went to Adelphi for my bachelor’s in art and design education K-12. I, then went to Hofstra University for my master’s in school counseling.

Q: Besides teaching, do you advise any clubs or coach any sports?

GV: I’ve been advising the Artisans club since the first year I got here. It used to be a photography club; then we segued it into more of a general art club. I’ve been coaching lacrosse for 16 years. I also coached junior high soccer for my first two years.

JC: This year, I’m co-advising the National Art Honors Society with Ms. Livoti, and I am also the head coach for the middle school girls lacrosse team.

Q: What are your interests outside of teaching?

JC: Well, obviously I still love to make art at home, but I also enjoy fitness; I go to the gym every morning at 5 AM. I also love to surf. I like to go to museums and attend concerts.

GV: I’m generally a pretty big sports guy. I love watching and going to games, but also a camera’s usually always around, in one way or another. I also like being outside, and I joke sometimes that I’m solar-powered. Whether it’s riding a bike or being out with my kids and stuff like that, I love to just be outside.


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