Humble volunteer achieves results

Karla McCalmont served as the art show coordinator for Miramar Ranch Elementary School’s annual Art Show and Open House for three years. (photos courtesy of Karla McCalmont)

Humble volunteer achieves results

Karla McCalmont projects an unassuming presence on the school grounds, but she is a well-educated, dedicated, organized, determined machine when it comes to being a parent volunteer. 

For the third year in a row, McCalmont served as the art show coordinator for Miramar Ranch Elementary School’s annual Art Show and Open House this past spring. To put that effort into perspective, McCalmont worked more than 122 hours while leading the charge to mat and hang 764 individual pieces of artwork throughout the school, ensuring that each student had at least one piece of work on display.

The 2017 Miramar Ranch Elementary annual Art Show and Open House included 764 individual pieces of artwork. (photos courtesy of Karla McCalmont)

McCalmont is well-prepared to work as a school volunteer. She originally moved to San Diego to do post-doctorate work in chemistry at UC San Diego. Now, she has a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Michigan, but she has not worked in the field since having children, and has been busy as a mother and volunteer. 

“If I Iearned chemistry in grad school, I also learned how to be organized … to get stuff done,” she said, adding that she is hoping to get back into applied chemistry at some point in the future.

Meanwhile, McCalmont had her hands full with projects such as directing the annual Miramar Ranch Elementary Art Show.

“The job really starts in February when I need to take inventory of all the supplies that we’ll need in order to put on the art show,” she explained. “I make a list of everything we need and I give that to the supplies coordinator so that she has plenty of time to place the order and I can get it into the art room and put it away in the right spot … I go through all the materials: the labels, the class lists, the instructions, the important dates.” 

About one month before the art show, McCalmont hosts a matting workshop where she provides instructions to classroom parent volunteers who are helping with the art show. She must have everything prepared before this important gathering. During the meeting, she announces all the details about how the volunteers need to select the artwork, what they should look for when they are choosing the artwork. She tells them how to let the kids have a say in what art of theirs is chosen. McCalmont gets very specific about every detail. 

During the workshop, she also shows them how to mat the artworks using Yes! Paste, an archival quality, acid free, non-toxic paste that many artists use to mat their works, according to McCalmont.

“Since we switched to that, we haven’t had any trouble with things falling off or peeling off. That used to be a big problem with glue sticks,” she said. “I found where we can buy it in bulk and I scoop it up into little cups to make it available for everyone.”

Following this important workshop, the parent volunteers are expected to begin the process of choosing student art pieces for the show, and preparing each one for the exhibit. This includes matting and labelling. 

“The volunteers have about two weeks to choose their art, mat their art and turn it in to me,” McCalmont said. “I go through each and every piece to make sure it’s matted correctly, that the labels are applied correctly and that every single student in the entire school has a piece of art. Even someone who shows up as late as that week of the art show, I still make sure they get a lesson in, and have something in there so no one is left out.”

McCalmont said she has become friends with the school office personnel because she is often asking them if any new students have arrived at the school, over and over. She said at least once a year there is a new student who arrives just before the show. McCalmont takes the time to give the student a special art lesson and makes sure they have a piece of art displayed in the show. 

Finally, McCalmont and between six to eight volunteers place all the art pieces on walls and display boards placed in hallways for the school’s art show. The process must be well-organized and the placement of the art must be visually appealing. The volunteers hang the entire show in two days, she said.  

McCalmont became involved in the school’s Art Corps program when her son, Bailey, was in kindergarten. At Miramar Ranch Elementary, Art Corps is funded by the Family Faculty Association. 

Parents are encouraged to volunteer for the program. Every volunteer must attend workshops throughout the year to learn how to teach each specific art lesson. The workshops are led by art instructors who explain background on sample famous artworks that exemplify each lesson that will be taught, whether it be shape, lines, value, color, texture or composition, McCalmont explained. The instructor goes over the finer points of what to do for the class warmup, and what materials to use. They lead the parent volunteers through a step-by-step process about how to present the lesson. Then the parents do the lesson in the Art Corps workshop so they will know how to do it when they present it in their child’s classroom. 

If no volunteers step up for a particular classroom, generous parents from other classrooms often come in to volunteer to lead a lesson for that classroom, even though their own children are not in that class.

“It’s a big undertaking, but there are a lot of dedicated volunteers who value art in education. The nice thing about Art Corps is that for each and every lesson for every single grade, they have gone through and looked at the California state standards and say which standard is being met by each lesson.”

Now, McCalmont is considering an opportunity to teach the Art Corps workshops in other schools in the future. 

McCalmont said she was helping with the Miramar Ranch Elementary Art Corps program when she learned that two women who had been coordinating the school’s annual Art Show would no longer be available because their children were leaving the school to attend middle school. 

McCalmont’s youngest child, Rachel, was promoted from Miramar Ranch Elementary and will attend Marshall Middle School in the fall, and McCalmont hopes to continue being a parent volunteer at the middle school. 

“It’s more difficult to volunteer at the middle school, but last year I was a coach for one of the events for Science Olympiad and I intend to continue that in the fall,” she said. “I met with the students competing in that event every week from October through January, with a competition in February. “

Altogether, McCalmont has been involved with her children at Miramar Ranch Elementary School for seven years. 

“It’s hard to believe I’ve spent seven years there, but it’s been a good seven years,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the new challenges that middle school brings.”  

Scripps Ranch News hopes to feature more articles about the area’s volunteers. If you know of a local volunteer deserving of recognition, please contact us:

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