Joe Laorenza retired as the Aiken High School band director several years ago, and this week he is retiring from a 28-year association with Gateway summer enrichment program.
“But band directors never really retire,” Laorenza, the Gateway director for 19 of those years, said with a smile.
Neither do art teachers. Carla Kerrigan, a Gateway art teacher and more recently, the assistant director, is leaving that program, too. Still, she plans to continue teaching at Aiken Elementary School for another four years after completing her 32nd year last month.
Gateway provides visual art and a variety of music instruction programs each summer, this year at Kennedy Middle School, for third grade and up. Elementary students participated in a showcase event a week ago; the middle and high school students will perform and display their artwork on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Laorenza joined the Gateway program as a teacher in 1985 before taking the director's position nine years later.
“It's gotten better every year,” Laorenza said. “Some of the teachers come in, and they stay. It's a different experience for the students and the teachers. We start Gateway each summer just a few days after school gets out. The teachers have a lot of dedication to the program.”
As he said, Laorenza still isn't retiring completely. He continues to teach an ensemble class at Aiken High, and directs the Aiken Youth Orchestra through Aiken Center for the Arts.
Kerrigan is going through similar emotions, finding herself locating projects for next summer that she won't get to use. She joined the Gateway staff 13 years ago and has directed both showcase events ever since. After her appointment as the assistant director four years ago, Kerrigan has continued to teach art classes.
William White, a rising junior at Midland Valley High, enjoyed working with Kerrigan at Gateway as an elementary school student.
“It was fun,” he said. “One of our projects was using small brushes for detailing on little canvasses. It really helped me with my art.”
Kerrigan has thoroughly enjoyed working with the hundreds of Aiken Elementary School students. However, Gateway does provide more hands-on and one-on-one opportunities, and Kerrigan brings to the kids more expectations. They're capable of handling art projects intended for grades 8-10.
“I have five little second-graders at school that I know will be here at Gateway next year,” Kerrigan said. “We'll start working on their portfolios.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.