By Scott Mims
A little paint, a paintbrush and a canvas can be freeing—especially for kids and for those who like to create or work with their hands.
Clanton Elementary art instructor Julie Harrison believes the school’s art program is giving students much more than that.
“This marks the program’s 10th year of existence, and every student in pre-K through second grade participates in the program,” Harrison said. “Art education aids in cultural awareness, fine motor skills and visual learning. It’s so important for kids, and we don’t have this outlet at any other of our county schools.”
That was one of the reasons why CES Principal Rebecca Threlkeld wanted an art program in 2004. That year, an anonymous Clanton businessperson donated $1,000 to help get the program started.
“This was a person who supports arts in our community,” Harrison said.
In the decade since, the primary source of funding has been Box Tops for Education, a program through which enrolled K-8 schools can redeem box top logos for cash. Harrison said she has been able to raise a total of $6,877 (at 10 cents per box top) to benefit art education.
This money helps students like Ashley Beth Jones, a seventh grader at Clanton Middle School who went through the CES program from 2007-2010.
“I think it helps you to be creative. It’s another way to express yourself,” Jones said.
One of her favorite memories from Harrison’s class was going outside to collect leaves and then tracing them on paper.
“I like to draw with colored pencils,” she said.
Jones is continuing her art education by taking classes from local artist Scarlett Teel, who, coincidentally, also taught Harrison from fifth grade until she was a senior in high school.
Younger students going through the CES program get to experience the feeling of creating a piece of art and seeing it displayed in the art gallery outside Harrison’s classroom.
Braxton Jones said his favorite art materials are paint, paste and collage.
“I like being able to paste things on paper,” he said.
Parents also like to see their children’s work recognized at school. Holly Penley remembers when her daughter, student Emma Penley, first drew something on a piece of paper.
“She was very young when she began drawing. At either 2 or 3, she brought me a doodle pad and said, ‘Look, it’s a mouse!’ I was expecting to see a scribble, but she had actually drawn a mouse!” she said. “For the longest time, anytime we asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would say an artist. She still does want to be an artist but is also interested in science and math.”
Harrison has been the only full-time art instructor at CES since the program’s inception. The classes cover art production, art history and art aesthetics. They study famous artists of the past and learn from their techniques—a certain kind of brush or a particular color scheme, for example.
One of Harrison’s goals is to continue to have art shows every spring. Students in the program display their work at Peoples Southern Bank and other places in the community.
Art show dates are as follows: second grade, April 28; first grade, May 1; kindergarten, May 5; and pre-K, May 8. Everyone is invited to attend the art shows.
“The opportunity to immerse young people in art education is something we’re thrilled to do. It definitely enhances their education. Research tells us children’s academic scores rise when they’re exposed to art,” said CES Principal Rebecca Threlkeld.
Harrison’s degrees include a Bachelor of Science in elementary education, Master in elementary education, Education Specialist in teacher leadership, Bachelor of Arts in art, and a Master in instructional leadership.
Needless to say, she wants the program to continue.
“If anyone would like to make donations to the CES art department, they would be greatly appreciated,” Harrison said.