Steve Silvasy

Collaborative Classroom: Finding a Voice with Comic Life

Steve Silvasy, teacher at Arise Academy Charter High School

You might not expect to see a native Philadelphia street artist teaching literacy in a high school technology class, but Steve Silvasy has found a way to bring art, technology and literacy together with his students in Comic Life. Comics used to be the symbol of wayward youth and the bane of educational literature’s existence. Now comics are breaking their way into classrooms as teachers move to engage their students in new and creative ways.

As a youth who enjoyed video games and fantasy role playing, Steve found the idea of an alter ego liberating. Today Steve applies that pursuit of creative outlets to his class, saying that “using an application that brings out creativity from students and also works on building literacy is very important in teaching.” And Comic Life turned out to be just the app he was looking for.

Steve's canvas artwork. Click image for a larger view.

The classroom is a team effort everyday for Steve, and his students are at the forefront of running their own education. The idea of a collaborative classroom gives his students a sense of ownership and partnership. “[I] try something and if it’s accepted, build off of that,” Steve says, “It really is a cool thing to watch. I think what got students enthusiastic about using Comic Life is the appeal of telling a story through images and short phrases.”

“I had a demo of Comic Life for my Mac and began brainstorming ways on how to use this application in class,” Steve says, “I teach technology, but I really wanted to start incorporating more literacy building skills and projects. I actually started asking a few of my tech savvy students about Comic Life and if they would be interested in trying it out in class. We started to try it out and students seemed to enjoy a different type of technology but also got to be creative.”

Taking the Curve Out of Learning

Stand up comedy from the students of Arise Academy. Click for more!

It only took a few moments of instruction before Steve’s students were creating in Comic Life all on their own. The intuitive interface of Comic Life allowed the class to move forward quickly and gave students the freedom to progress on their own. When creating a syllabus for teaching some general office skills Steve “ended up re-writing the unit as more of a “go at your own pace” type of model where students were individually given a written out assignment, and “we simply all moved at our own pace.” Steve notes, “to me, that made a lot more sense because students were continuing to build literacy by typing, learning how to follow directions as they were laid out for them and were paying attention more because they were moving at their own pace.” With Comic Life the students were able to focus on their projects without having to stumble through unwieldy interfaces first.

In a high school where the reading proficiency of incoming students hovers around 4th and 5th grade level, Steve found that Comic Life enabled him to approach literacy in a new and effective way. “What was great to see,” Steve remembers, “was that after only one project, students were creating without my help. Everything from adding a page template, photo, text, color, size, speech balloons, and style came easy to my students. The look of Comic Life also had a good vibe about it. Clean lines and easy to navigate…along with fun sounds when you make images bigger or smaller.” Students are drawn to their projects and are engaged in their work all on their own.

“All of my students have unique stories,” he says, “and really enjoy having a platform where they can be creative, especially with an easy to use interface.”

More on Arise Academy Charter High School and the Collaborative Classroom

As with all schools, Arise Academy has its set of challenges, but there is a unique twist to their story – “Arise is the first charter school in the country to exclusively work with the foster care youth,” a group Steve finds to be “extremely creative!” The unusual circumstance of their school’s population demanded a whole new approach to education. Steve notes, “Not only have they fallen victim to abuse, crime and hate, my students have fallen victim to ‘academic neglect.’” The inevitable gaps in education that form after years of bouncing from one school to another provided an opportunity for teachers and students to work together to fill in what was missing. The strengths and weaknesses vary across the board depending on each student’s history, and it is from these differences that the dynamic of mutual appreciation and side by side work that thrives at Arise.

Philadelphia, PA on the map.

Philadelphia, PA statistics for foster care children are striking – more than 75% of students coming from foster care will drop out of high school before finishing. Faced with this stark reality, Arise Academy makes it possible for students to remain at the same high school no matter where their foster care home is located. Giving back to his home town, Steve makes an effort to provide the students at Arise Academy with every possible advantage that he can, starting with giving the students responsibility.

Teachers and students rely on the exchange of ideas. “You have to be collaborative in this environment,” he says, “because a sense of ownership is something these students must be subjected to. Not only ownership, but building skills in how to effectively communicate. On top of this, a stable environment that is welcoming and ran in a calm and nurturing manner is important for students who may have been involved in negative life experiences. And since my class is a source of creativity, my students have the space to be creative and to show themselves as members of this community.”

With a promising start, the inaugural class of Arise Academy, were all able to graduate with full diplomas and begin their college careers – setting an inspiring example for their fellow students.

Footnote: Bringing Comic Life to the Students

In honor of Steve's recent marriage to Julia we're including Steve's hand drawing of Philadelphia's signature LOVE. Congrats you two!

When Steve first contacted plasq he and his students were working with a demo version of ComicLife but did not have the funds to upgrade or even outfit some of their computers with full versions of Comic Life. We’re pleased to announce that we’re supporting Steve and the students of Arise Academy with Comic Life licenses for the computers in their school so that they can continue to creatively build the story of their lives.

We are always on the lookout for extraordinary teachers and schools. Please feel free to contact us if you need special assistance.

Tagged on: ,
FILED UNDER: Education, Imported