The walls at Mid-Valley Elementary seem alive with student art work.
Whimsical masks greet the visitor, along with drawings, collages, and life-sized whale and porpoise figures. Stapled to one wall are “Wacky Books,” with divided pages for multiple story lines, and octopi in a kelp bed.
And a Harvest theme is tucked away above a counter and sink in one of the “pod” areas shared by multiple classrooms. The scene bears first-graders’ interpretation of the natural wonders surrounding the school.
Parent and artist Adele Hammond calls it “a communal project,” with kids taking the lead as they tear colored paper and glue it to a bulletin board to depict animals, pears and apples, sunflowers and pumpkins, and other images laid out before a snowy Mt. Hood.
The students, in Kelly Benjamin’s class, work in groups of six and take their work very seriously.
In minutes, a gray bunny with bright pink ears and a flying squirrel emerge where a blank bulletin board had stood. Fabian Munoz crafted the squirrel and Jessica Gifford, Vanessa Morga and and Alonzo Magana combined on the rabbit.
“I like tearing the paper,” said Amanda Montufar. “It looks cool when you tear it. I think it’s about a pumpkin patch,” said Amanda, who pointed with pride to the chunks of brown she glued to the board.
“That’s the ground,” she said.
Such individual contributions to the class-wide effort are what it’s all about, Hammond said.
“The kids came up with the idea of how to show each part of the mural,” Hammond said. She did the general sketch and painted in snow fields and other selected details. The students painted one-foot squares of paper in bright and earthy colors, some rippled, some monochrome, and then cut them into shapes such as apples and pears, or tear them into chunks as they realize their images.
“They enjoy the physicality of the tearing of paper and giving things shape,” Hammond said.
“It started with an idea and will evolve into what it becomes. It takes on its own life. The kids had ideas of their own,” she said.
For example, one child making fruit demurred from green paper, saying, “pears can be brown, too.” Children had similar ideas in varying the colors of sunflowers.
“It’s not about the end product. It’s about the process,” Hammond said.
“It’s a collage of animals, color and nature, and we work all that into problem-solving, such as what colors make up which animals,” Hammond said.
“The idea is to connect them with what’s going on in nature and then to have a group effort to produce the mural,” she said.
The project addresses the art curriculum themes of space, texture, line, and shade.
“It’s also about working together and sharing energy for the whole idea,” she said.
Like a sunrise changing the land’s hues, or the evolution of summer into fall, the picture changes and Hammond likes the fact that the children can see it as a work in progress.
“They see the results of their work from the previous week, and it’s building on that,” she said.
Meeting kids’ artistic needs is an important part of school, according to Hammond. Class sizes and budget cutbacks call for people with expertise to help teachers teach the arts, she said.
“This increases the amount of time the kids can spend in an area that would otherwise get a back seat,” she said.
Benjamin said Hammond brings important knowledge to share with the kids.
“We would do something in arts but without her, it wouldn’t be so articulate,” Benjamin said. “The best part of it is that the kids are enjoying it.”
TEACHING TEACHERS ART
Mid-Valley principal Gail Lyon notes that contributions such as artist Adele Hammond’s are part of an overall attempt to help teachers integrate art in regular curriculum.
“Adele, like other parents who are real artists, is giving teachers a better handle on how to teach art to kids,” Lyon said.
Hammond’s work is in addition to artists who come in through Artists in Education, PTA, and the Equal Arts Grant (program), in which each school gets an artist to work with three teachers to show them how they can teach art.
Lyon said, “the community of artists has been very supportive in sharing expertise with teachers.”
The district has an adopted art curriculum that matches the statewide Certificate of Initial Mastery standards, but since most teachers aren’t art specialists we welcome all the help we can get from the community.“
She said Hammond will work with first graders this year, then that teacher gets to see what she’s doing and pass that on others.
“So there’s a mushrooming affect and teachers feel comfortable with the art part of the cirruculum,” Lyon said.