A shining example:

Tom Callister’s volunteer work with the Kaleidoscope Art Program is making an impact

By Cameron Barnes
Reader Staff

When it comes time for retirement, vacations and margaritas are foremost on most peoples’ minds. Not Tom Callister. The art teacher is putting his expertise and skills to fantastic use, opening the minds of our youth to moments of creative genius and new skills.

The art programs I participated in at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield, Conn., were pivotal in my choosing photography as a career path. Unfortunately, these are also the programs hardest hit by budget cuts. All the more validation, then, for the Kaleidoscope Program, which was started in 1989 by CAL (Community Assistance League).

Tom Callister, right, looks on as Owen Hughes, left, Paul Kent, behind, Kai Longanecker, right, glue strips of tissue in various designs in Jenny Smith’s third grade Washington Elementary School class on Friday. Photo by Cameron Barnes.

Tom Callister, right, looks on as Owen Hughes, left, Paul Kent, behind, Kai Longanecker, right, glue strips of tissue in various designs in Jenny Smith’s third grade Washington Elementary School class on Friday. Photo by Cameron Barnes.

According to ArtsInSandpoint.org, the Kaleidoscope Art Program is, “an all-volunteer effort made possible by the Community Assistance League and the Pend Oreille Arts Council. We bring the joy and enrichment of art to third-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders throughout Bonner County. Kids who may not have art on a regular basis otherwise.”

Polly Mire, who curates the art collection at Bonner General Hospital, was the first to convince Tom Callister to join the Kaleidoscope program. It’s doubtful Mire could have predicted how far Callister would take it.

“I would have loved to have him as a volunteer art teacher when I was in elementary school!” said former Kaleidoscope coordinator Lynda Patalano. “Whenever he came to our Kaleidoscope training classes he would always share what lessons he had added on for the kids. I also learned from him on what I could teach my class. Tom is a man of many talents.”

The initial commitment for volunteers is only one day per month for six months. Callister took his volunteering a step further by helping out with two days a week of math lessons alongside his Kaleidoscope art lessons. He then asked Washington Elementary teacher Jenny Smith if he could help cover the entire art curriculum for her third-grade class, an effort he’s taken into his third year with the Kaleidoscope program.

“He came up with the entire art curriculum teaching the art principles and art elements every Friday,” said Smith. “[He] then would incorporate technology into the lessons because that was actually his focus as a professor in his research.”

I sat down with Callister and Smith to talk more about the program.


SPR: Can you give me a bit of background on yourself?

TC: I grew up in Southern California … it was a recession at the time in the ‘70s, and I thought teaching would be kind of interesting. I graduated from USC in humanities, but went back to get my teaching credentials. I spent four years teaching sixth grade in Salt Lake City, then went back and got my Masters degree at the University of Utah, followed by Ph.D. in Educational Studies. After I got my Ph.D., I moved to New Hampshire and taught at Dartmouth for six years … but I’m a West Coast person, so I took a job opening at Whitman in Walla Walla and ended up staying there for 17 years. The last six of those years, I was administration, so I wasn’t teaching anymore as the associate dean of faculty. We moved up here as soon as I retired and have been here five years now.

SPR: What are some of the current classes you’re teaching, and how are they going?

TC: What I’ve been trying to do is incorporate the seven principles and seven elements of art. The past two weeks we’ve been doing lines. The next two will be on shapes, then form and so forth.

SPR: Have there been some lessons that came out more successfully than others or were more challenging?

TC: We’ve been surprised. Some of the ones we didn’t think would work have worked out really well. Based on the lessons from previous years, I’ve been able to modify them a bit. I take notes after each lesson on what worked or didn’t—didn’t have enough of this or that. So assuming that Jenny makes me work next year again, I’ll have it down better.

JS: Well at this point I’m just dependent.

TC: The Christmas one was good. We made ornaments out of Fimo, which we wrapped up and then were given to their parents as gifts.

SPR: I’m sorry, what is Fimo?

TC: It’s also called Sculpey … Before last year I had never been in a Michaels.

SPR: And now they know your name when you walk in, right?

JS: I’m pretty sure it’s like … ka-ching!

TC: One of my favorites, and this one’s really hard to describe—we took foam board, and then I cut it into a thousand different little shapes. Then they would glue them together to create a 3D shape. I then tied this in with bas-relief.

SPR: Can you tell me a bit about your volunteering outside of the Kaleidoscope program to teach math?

TC: The math is really fun and hard. The math they do seems so much more advanced then when I was a kid or even when I taught. So I think it really helps to have two adults in the room.

SPR: What is one thing above all that you try to teach your students regardless of subject?

TC: I always try to incorporate literature or a book. Today I used this book [“Mirette on the High Wire” by Emily Arnold McCully] which includes a lot of lines in the illustrations.

JS: I do love that the kids are getting the vocabulary of the art and being able to recognize it. Vertical, horizontal … These are words that we use in a lot of different contexts throughout our lives.

TC: I really want them to learn something. I also try to incorporate illustrations of good art that in museums as examples of what we’re talking about.

Ultimately you want them to grow up to be good people, and some are going to succeed in ways that others aren’t. I want to do things that speak to their strengths … and ultimately to give them a sense of themselves.

SPR: What would you say to sell people on volunteering for Kaleidoscope?

TC: Part of the fun of doing this is being creative … I’m not an artist, and I don’t know very much about art, so anyone can volunteer for this … but I am learning a lot about art. I don’t know why a lot more don’t do this; there are a lot of retired people around here, which seems to me like there are people with time. It’s only eight lessons a year, and the workshops show you exactly what to do with very detailed lesson plans. I also think there’s still a stigma about males doing things in elementary schools. You just don’t see males in elementary schools. There are no men teaching at this school. In fact, last year one of the kids said to me, “You’re the only man in the school except for the guy that works in the cafeteria.” I think it’s a fairly positive thing that they see a male … so it would be great if there were more men doing this.

If you would like to volunteer for the Kaleidoscope program there will be training sessions the weekend of Oct. 15 at Sandpoint High School with art teacher Heather Guthrie. According to the Pend Oreille Arts Council website, “At these workshops you’ll be able to try out each lesson yourself, before you teach it. You’ll also receive a detailed lesson packet, which thoroughly explains each lesson, as well as a teacher’s guide. Art materials are available at each school. Lesson scheduling is determined between you and your classroom teacher.”

For more information please contact the Pend Oreille Arts Council at 208-263-6139 or by email at [email protected]

You can also contact Kaleidoscope directly by emailing Debbie Love at [email protected]

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