For many of our students, Intersession is a time of great personal discovery. Designed to give students the time and space to take a deep dive into an area of interest or a new skill, the eight days of Intersession sometimes sparks a lifetime passion or leads to an exciting career. So, it’s very fitting that we often have alumni return to Sonoma Academy to share those passions and careers, teaching Intersession courses to current students. This January, two of our alumni -- Hannah Day ‘09 and Miles Levin ‘13 -- were on campus to teach Intersession courses in their chosen fields: visual art and filmmaking.
As a member of the Class of 2009, Hannah spent only her senior year on our current campus. “I forgot how beautiful it is here!” she says. An enthusiastic art student during her high school years, Hannah has fond memories of Hillary’s art classes, especially painting landscapes featuring Mt. Taylor and the surrounding hills.
Hannah has returned to Sonoma County after a stint in Hawaii. Since her return home, she has been working with ArtStart, a non-profit educational arts organization with a mission to provide job training, mentoring, and stimulating arts work experience for Sonoma County youth, while creating publicly and privately commissioned art for the Sonoma County community. Although this was her first time teaching a course at SA, Hannah knew a few students (Grady Hecht ‘21 and Maeve Richards ‘21) from ArtStart.
When Dean of Curriculum Kelly Castaneda contacted Hannah about teaching an art-focused Intersession, she jumped at the chance to return to her alma mater. As the teacher of “Art in 8 Days,” Hannah was delighted to be able to build her own class. Her students undertook three main projects: mosaic stepping stones, crafted from ceramic and porcelain tiles; paper cut out installations, now hanging in the in the adirondacks; and mural paintings on wood panels.
This year’s Intersession marks the fourth time Miles Levin has taught at SA; in 2018, he co-led a Documentary Film Intersession course, and he has also taught film-based Exploratories and a film elective. This time around, Miles was teaching “Fast Film Challenge,” a class based on the popular 48 Film Project model. Students in the course watched classic short films and learned about the basics of filmmaking: creating a story and script, blocking and shooting scenes, and editing. Then, they created their own short films, drawing a genre from a hat and incorporating required characters, props, and lines of dialogue.
“I wanted to teach the class I didn’t get to take when I was a student at SA,” says Miles. When he was in high school, he was a “theater kid” who was involved with all the shows. During his senior year, Director of Theater Jen Cote, his advisor, inspired Miles to make his first film. Miles recalls, “She warned me: ‘you will struggle, but when you are done, you will never want to do anything else!’”
Miles was first drawn to film because it was a means for connecting with others. “One of my classmates was a cameraman,” says Miles. “We didn’t actually get along that well at first. But he became a true and lasting friend through our work together on that first film.” He also reveled in the true joy he found in filmmaking. Miles has remained connected to other SA alumni who are in the filmmaking field. In 2018, he teamed up with several other SA alums, students, and staffulty to make “Under the Lights,” a film about a young man coming of age while grappling with epilepsy, which was partially filmed on our campus.
It took Miles some time to develop his personal philosophy to approaching the study of film and filmmaking, as well as a personal definition of success, but he says, “choosing a path does not necessarily mean there has to be a finish line. For me, the journey is more important than the destination.” That outlook makes its way into his teaching; he encourages his students to focus on finding meaning in what they do and how they do it, not just in setting and accomplishing goals. “I was especially thrilled to see how these ideas inspired one of my students, Kelly Needleman ‘20,” says Miles. “In his Senior Speech, Kelly answered some of the very questions I asked in my own speech, back when I was a student.”