South Lakes High School STEAM Team Collaborative Art Program with Seniors at Hunters Woods Fellowship House

Public Art Reston Around Town, Education, Talk of Tysons

Now in its 12th year, the South Lakes High School STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Math) Team has extended its community engagement to Hunters Woods Fellowship House, a senior living apartment complex in Reston. The Team has initiated an ongoing collaborative art program aimed at curating exhibits for the facility’s new gallery space. These workshops have attracted active participation from both students and residents, with some sessions led by students, some by residents, and others facilitated by third-party instructors.

On February 8 at the Hunters Woods Fellowship House, students participated alongside residents in a workshop focused on calligraphy and brush painting Chinese characters. A subsequent exhibition featuring the produced artwork opened on February 22.

This student-led initiative originated in 2022 when Mark Fleming, financial director of the Hunters Woods Fellowship House, approached STEAM Team advisor, Marco Rando. The idea was to curate art shows for the newly established gallery space following a building renovation. Rando, along with colleague Dr. Matt Ravenstahl, proposed that students take on curatorial roles and serve as workshop instructors, thereby enriching the art education curriculum with practical, community-engaged experiences. Rando said this would provide “the real-world experience element required in engaging the community through a creative public art dialogue.” He further explained, “Students have been given the responsibilities of curating the art exhibition starting with the workshops, hanging the exhibit, and presenting the opening.”

The workshops conducted thus far have explored various themes, including cultural expressions, personal memories, mask designs, and calligraphy with a Valentine’s Day theme.
The program has garnered significant acclaim from residents and has been praised for fostering intergenerational connections between students and seniors and facilitating mutual learning experiences.

Dasha Soldatenkov, one of the youngest residents at Hunters Woods Fellowship House said, “This collaboration plays an important role in the lives of the elderly, as it brings together the younger generation and the elderly to create beautiful works of art. … I get to experience the unique bond between people of all ages, from teenagers to the elderly. I enjoyed each painting that I created for the art exhibitions because they all symbolized a different meaning, but my personal favorite was the “Generation to Generation” art exhibit. “Generation to Generation” is a chemistry equation where different elements come together, creating a chain reaction of who I am. It brought me joy to be able to express that!”

Another resident, Yang Cho, said, “Being able to work with the students from South Lakes High School and their teacher has brought many residents, like myself, happiness and gratitude! My favorite was the lovely calligraphy art exhibit. As a student of the calligraphy team at Hunters Woods Fellowship House, I found great satisfaction in being able to practice with and teach other students about calligraphy. Creating art where residents interact with younger adults and being able to provide insight on certain areas that they might not know makes me very proud and appreciative. We all learn from each other while having fun, and I think that is wonderful!”

Julisa Obregon, one of the students that organizes the art workshops and gallery openings shared her experiences and what the program means to her. “I have enjoyed every aspect of it because I am able to share my creative ideas and bring them to life. The planning process is very collaborative between the students and the adults, brainstorming themes, materials and choosing the perfect dates for the events. The workshops are amazing spaces to let the residents and students come together as they spend their time learning how to use art materials and create beautiful pieces of work.”

Reflecting on the impact of the exhibition openings, Obregon added, “When the gallery opens, we have a small celebration for all the residents to come together, look at their art, say a few words if they would like, and socialize with the other residents. We usually speak about the theme we had for the art and how we came up with the concept. We also mention everyone that helped us make our goals possible and thank them. Overall, this program has felt so rewarding as I get to see the difference it makes to my community, especially when I see the joy it brings to all the residents at the Fellowship House.”
Lena Oschmann, a South Lakes student who helped start the program, said, “I have had a great time learning about public art and meeting other artists. Overall, I hope this project will grow and more people, students, and residents will take interest in this.”

The next workshop, scheduled for May, will continue this collaborative effort, with students and residents working together to create art for an upcoming exhibition. This will be the last collaboration for the school year before picking back up in September.

In addition to their work at Hunters Woods Fellowship House, the SLHS STEAM Team Public Art Club, since 2014, also has been creating temporary public art installations for the Lake Thoreau spillway (a utilitarian drainage platform) in Reston. Proudly supported by Public Art Reston and the Reston Association, STEAM Team students gain real-world experience by following the same process required for a professional artist to realize a public artwork in Reston. Students use all the elements of “STEAM” to realize the Team’s sculptures.