Walking up the Carriage House stairs to the Middle School ceramics studio, one feels as if they are entering a different realm filled with natural light, creativity, and soothing background music. Sasha Bergmann, Middle School ceramics teacher, has created an oasis for her students to explore their creativity and learn new skills.
"I promise you we are going to have fun," Bergmann tells students as class begins. Today, eighth graders in Bergmann's Dinnerware and Surface Design class are learning how to use colored powder to dye porcelain clay, and then how to inlay the colored clay on a mandala. The idea for the lesson came from a student, David Driscoll '24: "David pointed to the powdered colors and said 'I want to do that!' so here we are," explains Bergmann.
Bergmann makes it a point to follow the students' lead on projects they are interested in and include them on classroom decisions. "I'm trying to be really responsive to the students. I always do some classroom expectations together. How are we going to co-create this space? It's our space and we really create a community when we come together."
Over the course of the 90-minute block, with an instrumental Spotify playlist as background music, students worked on coloring their porcelain clay while chatting about quizzes in other classes and their evening plans."I'm very intentional that this space is different than anywhere else you are going to find on campus," says Bergmann about her classroom environment. "BB&N is an intense place and we expect a lot of our students—I do too—but I'm really committed to it being a stress-free, relaxed, chill space because that just allows us to be better humans."
When porcelain clay is mixed with water it gets sticky, as the students quickly found out. "I'm struggling!" says one student, exasperated that her gloves are being pulled off by the clay. After trying to make it work with their sticky gloves, a few students ask Bergmann if they could change gloves and she replies, "Sure! Let's see if it makes a difference. I am experimenting with you."
Each student in Bergmann's class is encouraged to explore and see what they can create at their own skill level. "I make it clear that there is no right answer, and no wrong answer. There are techniques that I want them to learn, but then the assignments are really geared towards personal expression like: Where are you from? What's your heritage? How are you going to represent that?"
After studying art and psychology at UC Santa Barbara in California, Bergmann traveled east to complete an MFA in ceramics at UMass Dartmouth. After completing her education, she started making collaborative art to engage her community and bring people together—work that has informed her involvement with the Art for Social Change student group at BB&N.
When she had her two children, her focus shifted from collaborative art installations to doing more pottery, and over time she began teaching ceramics classes out of her home and at summer camps. Eventually, she went on to teach ceramics at Jewish Community Day School and Gann Academy before arriving at BB&N six years ago. "I fell in love with BB&N. I am amazed that I get to teach all ceramics, which is a rare opportunity for an art teacher."
With five minutes left in the block, Bergmann reconnects with her students, asking, "Is this what you were hoping for when we talked about it last week?" Some reply that they are discouraged by how messy and sticky the project was, while others liked trying something new.
As the bell rings, signifying the end of class, Bergmann sends her eighth graders off to the rest of their days: "Thank you all for your creativity today!"