To kick off the holiday season, Wrangell’s Evergreen Elementary School held its first-ever art walk on December 1, displaying art produced by the elementary students throughout the school year so far. KSTK walked the walk.
The back door of the elementary school bursts open with a flurry of snowflakes. Not that it’s snowing outside, but paper snowflakes made by the first and second graders of Evergreen Elementary hang thick from the ceiling.
“Welcome to our Christmas Walk-Through,” exclaims kindergarten and first-grade team teacher Arlene Wilson. She’s joined at the door by fellow teacher Matt Nore, and Mikki Angerman, the third leg of the team, is just down the hall. Together, they greet community members arriving at Evergreen Elementary School’s first-ever Art Walk.
The walk is set up more or less by grade. In the entryway, the walls are covered with the projects of the kindergarteners and first graders: paper chains, glittering snowmen, and autumnal tree scenes with watery, watercolor paint reflections. Wilson says some of the projects even integrated math.
“We learned about symmetry and reflection in that one,” Wilson says, gesturing to the watercolor paintings of colorful trees, “So we try to learn something while they’re doing [projects].”
The halls are packed. Second-graders made snow globes. Self-portraits in a multitude of artistic styles from every grade. Halloween-themed haunted house drawings. Imaginative x-ray arm tracings from the fourth-graders on black paper, with the bones filled in with blue and white pencil. Elementary school head teacher Jenn Miller-Yancey says it’s half a year’s worth of art, much of it produced as part of the school’s social-emotional learning program, or SEL.
“I don’t know why we didn’t do [an art walk] many, many years ago, we do artwork all the time,” Miller-Yancey says. “This year, I think the turning point for us was the new SEL program that we put together, making sure that we’re giving students more opportunities for self-expression, art opportunities, really focused on that positive behavior, mental health piece. We’re finding our students are responding incredibly well to it, and the climate and culture of our school are at its top right now.”
Part of the reason the social-emotional learning program has been restructured at Evergreen Elementary school is budget cuts. Wrangell’s school enrollment dropped by a higher percentage than any other district in the state last year. Since state funding is closely tied to school enrollment, that meant the district was working with less money during the budget process earlier this year. To save elective positions at the high school, elementary school teachers came up with a plan to integrate social-emotional learning more deeply into everyday class life, to reduce the need for a full-time counselor at the school.
“We just kept integrating these wonderful projects into our lessons in the classroom and into [SEL coordinator Tawney Crowley’s] lessons for the mental health piece,” explains Miller-Yancey, “And our walls are covered with amazing student artwork with a whole lot of expression put into every piece.”
Miller-Yancey says she and the SEL coordinator, Tawney Crowley, came up with the idea for an art walk after seeing the success of classroom art projects: “We were like: ‘We should keep all this, keep putting it up on the walls until winter hits when it gets darker, colder, maybe closer to Christmas, and let’s have a walkthrough!’ It’s very COVID friendly. And so we just started doing it, and it turned out amazing.”
It couldn’t have been planned this way, but the art walk also came as a bright spot in a dark time in Wrangell – literally. A large windstorm on the last day of November caused days-long power and internet issues for parts of the community. Miller-Yancey said at one point, the elementary school staff didn’t know if they’d be able to pull off the event. Spoiler, they did.
“Everybody is having a blast,” she said at the event. “It’s definitely putting a lot of holiday cheer out there in the air. And students are so excited to have their families in school. And the staff is equally excited. It feels great.”
Around more corners of the art walk, tissue paper stained glass leads the way to Dia De Los Muertos masks. Paper snowflakes melt away into paper lanterns, interspersed with ornaments made of pool noodles and CDs that will adorn Wrangell’s downtown community Christmas tree. Short stories are stapled to one of the boards.
It’s not just elementary art on display at the art walk. Wrangell High School senior Sophia Hagelman stands near the entrance to the district office, which is in the elementary school building, next to a red, black and white painting about the size of a square table bearing the elementary school logo and a Tlingit formline-inspired eagle.
“It’s going to hang up somewhere in the elementary school,” Hagelman explains. “We’re not exactly where we’re going to place it yet.”
It’s Hagelman’s senior project, and elementary students helped out.
“I had taken three students from each class to help me paint, and they did really well,” she added.
Miller-Yancey says the art walk has been such a success, the staff is already tentatively planning another.
“We come back [after the holidays] in January,” Miller-Yancey says, “[And] we’re thinking we’ll just start all over and hopefully have a late spring [art walk] as well.”
At the end of the snaking hallways of art projects, tables are set up with juice, water and cookies. The exit, out the front of the building near the elementary school garden, now parallels the entrance that was festooned with paper snowflakes from the kindergarteners and first graders. In the time it took to walk the art walk, it started snowing.
Get in touch with KSTK at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 874-2345.