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Exploring individual art with a schoolwide perspective at Sumas Elementary

A schoolwide art project at Sumas Elementary has an individualized perspective within a universal endeavor, a program that allowed students and teachers at Sumas to explore art unique to the individual and the grade while working together to create an installation fit for the entire school.

First-grade teacher Jennifer Niemann spearheaded the project, which launched before the start of the school year. “We wanted something that would be a community building type of thing,” she says. “We did the art at the beginning of the year and got everybody involved.”

While the project only took two weeks to complete, it took more than two months to get displayed.

In a larger sense, the art project asked each student to create a heart based on a heart mapping unit that had students exploring ideas from their heart or issues that mattered to them. But each grade level took a different tact in the artwork.

Niemann started the effort before school kicked off, working with teachers throughout the school so they could go through the art process and better understand how to teach it. From there, each grade level took a different medium. Kindergarteners and preschoolers worked in watercolor; first grade handled fabric paints; second grade used a template and wrapped yarn; third grade featured metal tooling; fourth grade explored needlepoint; and fifth grade dove into needle felting.

“I think what made it successful was teaching each group of teachers how to do it,” she says. “We don’t have an art teacher, so we did what we could do in our classrooms. It was pretty smooth and the teachers learned about it and did it before trying to teach it.”

For the students, the excitement has come again now that the artwork has a home. “First you are only focused on yourself and your small piece and then they see the classroom and then how they all fit together,” Niemann says. “Each person made one, but the piece as a whole looks stunning.”

With help from school and district staff, a wall was painted and frame built for the project. There was a lot of trial and error in getting the artwork into the space before a Plexiglas covering was placed over top to help preserve it, even if it needs to move. 

When approaching the installation, students generally grow eager to find their own design and then step back and see how it all fits together. Niemann hopes they can again do something similar for the entire school. “It was a nice bonding experience,” she says, “doing art together.”