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Equal opportunity projects

Superior High School senior Ashley Salus, right, creates a piece of collage art in an classroom with the help of Briana Utrie, an art education major at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Ashley created art over the school year that was displayed at the Kruk Gallery at UWS. The artwork and research on painter Andy Warhol will be woven together as part of her senior project. (Submitted photo)

A Superior High School senior with a penchant for purple finishes phase one of her senior project next week.

Ashley Salus contributed a wall's worth of artwork in the Twin Ports K-12 Art Exhibit, displayed at the Kruk Gallery on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus this month.

Ashley has always loved art, said her mother Pam Salus.

"When she was little she would bring me her Magic Doodle or crayons," Salus said, to prompt her mom to color with her.

Now 20, Ashley has a bright smile and enjoys bright colors. Her work at the gallery ranges from a body-sized painting to a clay bowl, a drawing of a cat to a multimedia mix.

"I was impressed," Salus said. "I was surprised at how much they got her to do."

Many of the pieces will hang in places of honor at home.

Ashley turns her art projects and some research into a digital book presentation for her senior project with the help of special education teacher Pam Clark. Like fellow members of the class of 2013, Ashley must complete a senior project to graduate despite the fact that she is nonverbal and has special needs. The senior project is a graduation requirement for all students, according to Senior Project Coordinator Mike Matejka. The project offers a chance for students to gain experience in organizing a presentation for a group of people they may not know, a basic life skill.

"We want every student to be pushed or stretched a little in the experience," Matejka said.

Special needs students are no exception, although many may choose to focus on transitional life skills instead of career research. Past students have created scrapbooks, researched jobs, composed musical pieces and even started their own recycling business, Matejka said.

Like their classmates, most are excited and nervous before the presentation and "beaming ear to ear when they're done," he said.

Clark and Salus sat down to discuss the senior project together, looking at where Ashley's strengths and interests were as well as her future plans. Clark said art is calming for Ashley and it's something she enjoys, especially bright colors and smiling faces.

Some of the pieces were made with a helper, Clark said. And many were made in Denise Schraufnagel's art class.

Special education assistant Diane Grymala attended those classes with Ashley, where some of the pieces pulled the senior out of her comfort zone.

"I love having Ashley Salus in art and design classes," Schraufnagel said. "The Art I course was full of great curriculum pieces for her. Looking at art, talking about art, and making art have the potential to give special education students new skills, joy and confidence."

Another helper was Briana Utrie, an art education student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Utrie began working with students at the high school to learn how to adapt to different styles of learning and ways students express themselves.

"Right now I'm taking a class about inclusiveness, getting everybody involved," she said, with a focus on students with special needs. Utrie went from being an observer in class to an active helper with Ashley.

"She's very drawn to purple," Utrie said, and watching what the UWS student does.

For five years, Clark has worked with Ashley, helping her develop communication and life skills for the future.

"I know it's good for her to be moving on," Clark said, but watching Ashley graduate will be tough. There will probably be tears, Clark said.

Ashley's art, as well as the work of other Twin Ports students, will be taken down following a closing reception 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at the gallery, located in the Holden Fine Arts Building.

Community volunteers are needed to evaluate senior projects at the high school 4-7 p.m. March 6, March 19, April 17 and April 24.

"We can't do it without community evaluators," Matejka said.

Having new faces to present to encourages students to better prepare and organize their work.

"The rest of their lives they're going to have to plan, organize and prepare things for people they don't know," Matejka said. "Now they can do it with help and support. It's good practice."

To volunteer or for more information about senior projects, email Matejka at Mike.Matejka@superior.k12.wi.us.

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