Visual junior Kylie McKenna began her day at 8:30 a.m. It consisted of academics in the morning and a whole afternoon committed to art. As 10 p.m. rolled around, she was finally able to get some rest, but instead of going to sleep after her free time, she and her roommates stayed awake sharing stories and making lifelong friendships. They kept this routine for over four months.  

McKenna and 47 other juniors and seniors around the country were offered the same opportunity at The Oxbow School In Napa, California, where they spent the first semester of the school year away from home to focus on visual art. McKenna described her experience as “life changing.”

“I thought [Oxbow] was going to be good, but it ended up being better than I had imagined,” McKenna said. “I made such amazing friends. I’m surprised that I would even make friends to that capacity. I can’t even describe the feeling.”

Each dorm had about five to seven people in each unit, creating opportunities for students to spend time with each other. “I don’t think there was one person I wasn’t friends with there,” McKenna said. The school is located about 45 minutes from San Francisco and is very close to downtown Napa. McKenna drew artistic inspiration from the new setting.

“We went to the Napa and San Francisco climate march,” McKenna said. “Seeing how much people are invested in our futures and how much they want to make it better really inspired me. I want to do something like that.”

McKenna realized that she wanted to pursue environmental science and conservation. Although attending the climate marches in person impacted her interest, the school’s morale and teachers also influenced her. 

“My environmental science teacher treated us as peers and [valued what] we said,” McKenna said. “It was really nice having teachers that viewed us as equals.”

Teachers also encouraged the incorporation of students’ art interests in their schoolwork. Many teachers at the school encouraged creative discussion in both their art and academic work. Faculty members, such as math teacher and dorm head Celeste Sazani, liked to see the two overlap. 

“The academic side is really asking these introspective questions,” Ms. Sazani said. “Art pieces are incorporated, and it blends together in a really beautiful way.”  

McKenna even made art with natural items she found near the school. Of these pieces, her favorite was a week-long project during the course of which she boiled flowers and made dyes out of them. 

Originally, McKenna thought she would stick to the same concentration she did at Dreyfoos. Her main focus was painting, but, once she got to Oxbow, that quickly changed. 

“When I got there, I got really into sculpture and working with wood and fabric,” McKenna said. “I just fell in love with it.“

From the Oxbow experience, McKenna has learned both new things about art and life lessons that affect her day-to-day life at Dreyfoos. 

“At Dreyfoos, some people are afraid to put out pieces that they aren’t sure are good,” Mckenna said. “There, everyone is just experimenting with how they want to produce art. I learned a lot more about being OK with producing failures.”

Although McKenna was away for just a short period of time, the vast change she has seen in herself is clear. She hopes to start this semester with a smooth transition. As for the newbies at Oxbow this semester, she hopes they enjoy it as much as she did.

“Don’t go in with any expectations,” Mckenna said. “Prepare yourself to be surprised and don’t waste any moment there.”