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Dublin High School Special Day Classroom Student Finds Joy in Ceramics Class

March 27, 2018

DUBLIN, CA–It is second period at Dublin High School on a rainy Wednesday morning. As we make our way into Mark Pignolet’s N-107 classroom, students are working alone or in collaboration on their ceramic and sculpture projects. A regular attendee makes a daily trek from across the campus from his Special Day Classroom. His name is Austin Chen. Our visit was made possible by his Instructional Aide, Carrie Collins. What we witnessed over the next hour was a mind-opening experience. Ms. Collins has worked for the Dublin Unified School District over the past four years. This particular learning space is classified as a Moderate to Severe Special Day Classroom. We asked Carrie to describe her special relationship with Mr. Chen.

DSC_0695 Please describe your introduction to Austin and what were your impressions?

Carrie Collins: “I met Austin four years ago when I first became an Instructional Aide at Dublin High School. The class was very overwhelming initially. The behaviors are varied and can be very surprising at first. Austin is particularly loud vocally and makes very large sudden movements with his arms often. However, he is also very precise and particular.” Describe a typical school day for you and your students – what do your colleagues attempt to accomplish on a day to day basis?

Collins: “Although our students spend their entire day in the same classroom, essentially, we break up the day just like it is broken up for the general education students. Each period has a different focus: morning meeting (which includes attendance, calendar time, and sometimes news time), math, language arts, Adaptive PE, Science/Art, free-time (which is the student’s favorite time and usually means computer usage). We also have one day a week when we go on various outings. Sometimes these are walking outings where they practice social skills and usually we drive someplace once a month. Austin is unusual in that he is our only student who participates in a general education class, Ceramics.”

DSC_0709 As you speak on behalf of Austin, what has he taught you and what does he bring to the classroom of his peers?

Collins: “Through Austin I learned that there is more to these students then you could guess at first glance. Each of them has some unique skill or interest. Sometimes it’s hard to see these skills through all of the interesting and challenging behaviors, but they are there.” Attempt to express what his art work represents Austin – the person. Why is he so special?

Collins: “Austin really likes to work with his hands and I’m guessing that it helps still his mind to a certain extent. Ceramics class is his quietest time of the day. His precision and skill can also be seen in other forms of art like drawing or paper folding. I absolutely love watching Austin work at the wheel. He usually tells me what he is going to make, often a bowl or vase, and then seeing it become a reality in about 20 minutes is amazing. During the time I’ve been taking him to ceramics his creations have become larger and more diverse in shape as he experiments more.

“Austin started working on the wheel before coming to DHS and has his own wheel and kiln at home. His mother has said that he sometimes would watch a video and then try to copy it himself and has taught himself a lot of techniques in this manner. Lately he has started to try some sculpting as well. What has amazed me about the recent sculpting is that he started with a rather difficult animated character that he is familiar with and he does it strictly from memory and with no instruction.” How can local residents view his art work?

Collins: “Austin’s work is displayed and can be purchased at The Coffee Cafe which is hosted by Friends of Children with Special Needs. The address is 1029 S. Bascom Ave, San Jose, CA 95128. Austin has also started to work in this coffee shop doing some clean-up and serving tea. This is an amazing opportunity for him and others to display their artwork and take part in the community.” ( Anything else that you would like to add?

Collins: “Working with special needs students has been an amazing experience. I have learned a lot from them. I’ve also been impressed with how welcoming and accepting our Dublin High students have been with our students. In the past four years I have watched several of our students come out of their shells and become much more social through their experiences on our campus.” would like to thank Carrie Collins for sharing her insights into her program and opening a window into Austin’s world of ceramics. What we witnessed was the culmination of a beautiful relationship.




  1. Irene Padnos permalink
    March 27, 2018 12:01 pm

    Thank you Michael for this article. Austin is an amazing young man and very talented!!

    • Michael Utsumi permalink
      March 28, 2018 6:53 pm

      Thank you, Irene. The wonderful relationship between Austin and Carrie is obvious. I was just pleased to be invited inside this world for an hour. It was a beautiful thing to experience!

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