DEVENS — Parker School student Siobhan Bailey chose an intriguing topic for her Arts and Humanities Gateway project. Tapping into an ancient tradition with an artist’s eye and using high-tech tools that were new to her, such as a computer graphics program, she designed an original, virtual deck of Tarot cards.
Following a set gateway template, Siobhan, a Division Two (grades 9 and 10) student, gave her project-wrapping oral presentation with aplomb and colorful visuals.
She explained why she chose Tarot deck design after exploring a broader field of topics that included music videos, gypsies and Tarot card readings.
She outlined historic context and visual content, sketched research and described how she reimagined recurring symbols in three established Tarot models to create her own deck.
The classroom was full. Everyone — classmates, teachers and guests — was there by invitation. Feedback ranged from personal kudos to generic comments and questions. The positive tone is a given for gateways, which are benchmarks in the assessment process as Parker students advance from one division to the next. They also provide a trial run for senior presentations that, unlike gateways, will be critically judged.
What’s in a Tarot Card, Old and New?
The origins of Tarot date back to Egypt or Northern Italy. The first fortune-tellers were priests. A typical layout consists of 72 cards, divided into major and minor “arcana.” There are suits, as with playing cards and court cards.
Images in the “major arcana” include the Fool. It is the first card in the deck and starts the Tarot “story,” Siobhan said. Other cards she recreated in her deck were the Wheel of Fortune, Justice and Death.
Each card has its own set of meanings. The Fool stands for new adventures, possibilities, caution, the five senses and life.
Tracing his evolution from Original to Modern to Gilded Tarot deck, Siobhan pointed out symbols in the Fool card that changed with the times. There’s a sun in the first picture and a dog. Dominant colors are yellow, white and orange The Fool, dressed in brightly patterned clothes, is poised at the edge of a cliff. He holds his chin up, proudly.
The modern Fool looks confident, like his ancient counterpart, but “less human,” Siobhan said. Instead of a sun, there’s a moon in the picture. Dressed in striped clothes, he stands in a river, with fish jumping around him.
The Fool in the Gilded Tarot deck wears a harlequin costume, with a court jester’s cap. He’s dancing. Objects in the picture include a gold hoop and a scepter.
Common symbols Siobhan incorporated into her deck included small animals and the character’s position, from about to step off a cliff to having fallen to a stance in mid-air.
She used similar methods to interpret and imagine her own, original versions of the Wheel of Fortune, Justice and Death.
Death is not an entirely morbid image, she said. Meanings include new beginnings, mortality, the five-senses and change.
Siobhan is preparing to move to Division Three (grades 11 and 12.)
Advancement at Parker is an adventure as well as an achievement, with assessment built into the process. It is not based on automatic annual step-ups, nor is progress measured by grades and tests. Students build by-the-book portfolios with sections for each instructional domain: Arts and Humanities; Math, Science and Technology, Wellness (health and physical education) and Spanish.
To graduate, students must demonstrate mastery of 13 essential skills, including reading and writing, math problem-solving and oral presentation.