Peace­ful art to warm hearts

Acre­man Ele­men­tary stu­dents full of pos­i­tive art


Learn­ing to be thought­ful and con­sid­er­ate is an im­por­tant life les­son for any child striv­ing to grow up and one day be­come a ma­ture and re­spect­ful adult. Stu­dents at Acre­man Ele­men­tary in Green’s Har­bour are learn­ing this in an un­ex­pected fashion.

Kelly McEn­te­gart-Shep­pard, an artist from Blake­town, is teach­ing 79 stu­dents at the K-6 school about the im­por­tance of build­ing and rec­og­niz­ing good char­ac­ter traits to help pro­mote a kind and car­ing com­mu­nity.

In Ron Buckle’s Grade 3 class, the chil­dren are us­ing clay to cre­ate per­sonal totem poles, with dif­fer­ent an­i­mals cho­sen to ex­press a stu­dent’s own char­ac­ter­is­tics.

“ They picked their own ones to rep­re­sent them­selves,” says McEn­te­gart-Shep­pard.

The project was made pos­si­ble through the Art­sS­marts pro­gram, which brings pro­fes­sional artists into class­rooms to help in­cor­po­rate art into nonart sub­ject ar­eas. The pro­gram is over­seen by the New­found­land and Labrador Arts Coun­cil.

This year’s three-month stay at Acre­man Ele­men­tary is McEn­te­gart-Shep­pard’s sixth such project with the school. Last year, the stu­dents fo­cused on cli­mate change, and in the past have worked on geo­met­ric shapes and tra­di­tional New­found­land and Labrador out­port life, amongst other sub­jects.

“My­self and the prin­ci­pal ( Patty Collins Yet­man) were in dis­cus­sions try­ing to fig­ure out what we could come up with, and we wanted some­thing dif­fer­ent this year,” says the artist. “An on­go­ing theme they try to teach within the cur­ricu­lum of the school is ‘safe and car­ing en­vi­ron­ment,’ and we thought that might be a good one.”

Each grade is tak­ing on a dif­fer­ent project. Kinder­garten stu­dents will cre­ate peace T-shirts.

“ They can’t wait to wear them,” laughs McEn­te­gart-Shep­pard.

– Kelly McEn­te­gart-Shep­pard

The Grade 1 class will paint an­i­mal icons on silk, while Grade 2 stu­dents will cre­ate an ab­stract mo­saic based on their own in­ter­pre­ta­tions of unity and peace. Grade 4s will use mod­el­ling clay to make a book ex­plor­ing the theme of re­spect, while the Grade 5 class will in­cor­po­rate a va­ri­ety of art tech­niques to also cre­ate a book, with this one fo­cus­ing on the pos­i­tive char­ac­ter traits stu­dents can share with the com­mu­nity.

Fi­nally, the Grade 6 stu­dents are paint­ing ceil­ing tiles ex­plor­ing is­sues of com­pas­sion, em­pa­thy, peace, and equal­ity.

In work­ing with the stu­dents, McEn­te­gart-Shep­pard says she tries to keep things sim­ple.

“ They take ev­ery­thing lit­er­ally, so you have to in­di­vid­u­al­ize each and ev­ery in­di­vid­ual step, and be very clear on what you want them to do.”

McEn­te­gart-Shep­pard’s own in­ter­est in art de­vel­oped as a child, and she be­gan paint­ing at the age of 14. She de­voured what­ever books on art she could find grow­ing up, and took a cor­re­spon­dence course while in high school to make up for the fact there was no art in­struc­tion of­fered at her own school.

The op­por­tu­nity to ex­press them­selves ar­tis­ti­cally is some­thing the stu­dents seem to have en­joyed, as McEn­te­gart-Shep­pard says the chil­dren have fun.

“ They love to learn, and they love to be hands-on,” she says.

She loves work­ing with the stu­dents, and says it re­quires a lot of en­ergy. The staff at Acre­man Ele­men­tary have been a won­der­ful group to work with and are al­ways there when she needs them, McEn­te­gart-Shep­pard says.

Over her time at the school, she has been able to watch stu­dents con­tinue to de­velop their skills.

“ You can see that they’ve got the ba­sics. They know about con­fig­u­ra­tive draw­ing and stuff like that. I don’t even have to teach them that any­more.”

The re­sults of what stu­dents have learned come through in their fi­nal pieces.

“Some of them are re­ally sur­prised by what they’ve ac­com­plished,” she says, ex­plain­ing stu­dents of­ten do not be­lieve they are ca­pa­ble of draw­ing or cre­at­ing art.

“ When they’re fin­ished, they say, “I can’t be­lieve I did that. That’s the best draw­ing I ever did.” They’re very pleased with them­selves.”

Reilly Mayne (left) carves the nose for his totem pole us­ing clay along­side Grade 3 class­mate Kyle March.

This dis­play of ge­o­met­ri­cally in­clined art is an ex­am­ple of pre­vi­ous work done by stu­dents at Acre­man Ele­men­tary in Green’s Har­bour, with help from Kelly McEn­te­gart-Shep­pard.

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