The Oxbow School inspires, captures art students’ interests

Each year, along with the many foreign exchange programs offered to the Upper School, students particularly interested in visual art are able to apply to the Oxbow School. A single semester art school for juniors and seniors located in Napa, California, Oxbow gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in an environment of critical problem solving and creativity.

The application process is relatively easy. Applicants fill out an online form with personal information, complete an essay, and submit a self-portrait.

“I have always done art classes. I wanted to see if I could take my art to another level and maybe pursue it in college,” said junior and fall-semester attendee Grace Ann Perry. “I wanted the opportunity, so I thought I would just apply, even if I didn’t get in.”

The three-acre Oxbow campus overlooks the Napa River, with scenic views, rose gardens, and multiple studio and dorm buildings. It is within walking distance of downtown Napa and just an hour away from San Francisco and the Bay Area. When given free time on the weekends, students have the opportunity to leave campus and visit local places in the area.

Student life at Oxbow is extremely different from that of a traditional high school. For example, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, students have the opportunity to get exercise by participating in activities and sports like bicycling, yoga, hiking, and kayaking.

Mondays through Thursdays are allotted for intensive core academic and art classes. Fridays are days for activities like hikes, or field trips, typically to museums, galleries, private collections, and studios. After 5:30 pm, students are given “open studio” time, where they have the chance to finish any assignments or work on pieces, similar to office hours in the Upper School.

“Oxbow is an interdisciplinary program,” said junior and fall-semester attendee Yoon Jo. “Just because it is an art school does not mean that the rest of the coursework is easy. Every class counts for an honors credit. However, the school does not include AP credits, which may throw off your schedule.”

The school has two classes: art and connections. Connections, a class co-taught by three teachers, strives to combine main academic courses such as English, science, and history, while also including philosophy and ethics.

“[The classes] typically involve essays and research involving the art you make and its history,” said Perry. “We read parts of Walden andwrote about it, and took field trips around Napa to places related to agriculture and our environmental science class.”

Apart from academics, the school also enables students to develop relationships with each other. With a student to teacher ratio of six to one, students also grow close to the faculty during small and intimate classes.

“I was able to form so many types of relationships,” said senior Hannah Namnoum, who attended Oxbow last year during her fall semester. “Living with 30 other teenagers, you get to create a really different, unique kind of friendship, as opposed to just seeing someone at school. I also formed really great relationships with my teachers. Even though we wouldn’t always see each other in the classroom, we had the chance to interact during meals, field trips, and studio time, which was helpful and fun.”

Multiple showcases are held throughout the semester to display current projects, usually pertaining to what the students are learning in their academic classes. Students must also complete a final project, where they research, document, and produce a project of their choosing. The final project is an opportunity to focus in-depth on a subject of their choice. For the studio element of the project, students can create a single work, a series of related pieces, or an installation emanating from an essential question. For the research element, students write a 10-page paper driven by the same essential question.

The goal of the final project is to foster an ongoing dialogue between inquiry, research, and the creation of art. The path of research directly informs the artwork and also includes analysis of other artists’ work with similar topics or media.

At the end of the semester, a final showcase is held to display the students’ final projects. Many family members and teachers fly to Napa to see what the students have created, and it is a way for families to meet the faculty as well as the friends the young artists have made.

Students from all over the country and globe come to Oxbow to learn from renowned faculty and visiting artists. They are given the chance to experience living away from home, rooming with friends, and engaging in a new place with like-minded peers.

“I have always been an independent learner and found it difficult to thrive in regular school systems,” said Jo. “It was really nice to feel validated by teachers and mentors who believed in me, no matter how far I strayed from the norm. At Oxbow, I grew as an artist, a scholar, a member of society, but most importantly as an individual with thoughts and feelings. I don’t think I have ever felt so motivated in my life. It’s the best experience I’ve ever had.”