Art club builds creativity, connections

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Maria Stavroplus shows Ashton Phillips how to use a circle-drawing tool during a session of the middle school’s art club. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Presley Woods works on her "12 Days of Christmas" project.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Over half a dozen MFL MarMac middle school students are gathered in the art room after school. They’ve each selected a single sheet of white paper with a large number ranging from one to 12 printed on it. Now, their heads bent low, brows furrowed, pencils poised over the blank expanse, they have to illustrate the line from the classic holiday carol “12 Days of Christmas” that corresponds with their number. 

One student carefully sketches “Three French Hens” in a script-like font. Another uses a circle-drawing tool to form the body of a partridge in a pear tree. Sure, there’s some erasing, and a few first attempts land in the trash bin. But they keep persevering, putting to paper what they’ve forged in their minds. 

“It’s fun to see,” shared Jennelle Schroeder. “They say, ‘I can’t do this.’ But then, when you break it down, all of a sudden you see puff letters everywhere.” 

Schroeder is the school nurse. Along with art teacher Natalie Campbell, she’s helped lead this art club, that, for the past three years, has welcomed kids to share their creativity three or four times each month throughout the school year. 

“We started it to catch high-risk students who aren’t involved in other activities, like sports,” she said. “It gives them something else to do after school, instead of just sitting at home. And the big thing is, it gives them another adult to make a connection with.” 

Around 12 to 13 students meet regularly for art club. The program is free and, since last year, grant funding has helped purchase art supplies and even facilitated summer classes focusing on clay and murals. 

“There’s no cost and no expectation for them to come every week,” Schroeder said. “They know they can always come whenever they’re not busy.” 

Art club always meets on Tuesdays or Thursdays, when an activity bus is available to take students home. 

In art club, students are exposed to a variety of concepts and mediums, many of which supplement or reinforce what they’re already learning in their regular art classes. They’ve learned about shadowing, contrast, highlights and realism—dabbled in everything from painting to chalk and oil pastels. 

“Certain art forms click with different [students],” Schroeder noted. “Having a smaller group, we can explore more.” 

She discovers many project ideas on Pinterest, adapting them to the students’ abilities. A lot are based around the holidays or seasons. Students like this, said Schroeder, because they can then display their creations at home. 

“They’re allowed to put their own mark on a lot of things,” she added. “It really opens up the flow of creativity.” 

Schroeder said one eighth-grade participant, Breanna Allison, has been instrumental this year in helping to lead the group and develop project ideas that appeal to the other students. 

“We’ve done a lot of collaborating,” she said. 

For most students, a love of art has drawn them to participate in the club. 

“I like to draw and express my feelings through art,” shared fifth grader Presley Woods. 

She also likes that projects are challenging, yet they’re not graded, taking some of the pressure off. 

“You really get to test your art skills,” agreed fourth grader Ashton Phillips. 

Sixth graders Ava Lindner and Maria Stavroplus said they enjoy working on unique projects, while also having fun with friends. 

“For some, it’s more about the social aspect,” Schroeder remarked, “but some just really love to do art.” 

Through art club, participants learn to multi-task and complete multiple-step directions. They’re asked to brainstorm and think outside the box. 

The students encourage one another, readily offer ideas or suggestions and show others how to use tools or complete a particular skill. Schroeder said this peer teaching and interaction is one of art club’s most positive effects. 

“It builds confidence in the ones who know how to do it,” she said, “and the others learn they don’t always have to ask me for help. This way, they’re not just building relationships with me, but other students. They’re interacting with kids they don’t normally interact with during the school day.”

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