The world through art; Pilot art program helps Oakland Education students craft connections

Published 8:51 am Thursday, December 27, 2018

Surrounded by art supplies and collaborative minds, Oakland Education Center students spent last Friday creating masterpieces.

This quarter, Oakland students had an opportunity to take part in a pilot art program that was started by a partnership between the school and Austin Area Arts several months ago. The goal of this specific program was for these students to build relationships with community members, as well as learning how to express themselves through creative mediums.

Left to Right: Justin Steckman and Austin Bright, both Oakland Education Center students, take a look at all the different art projects they had a chance to create this quarter.

“These students are able to reflect, pause and know how to release their emotions and thoughts in a positive way,” said Becky Gerdes, instructional coach at Oakland Education Center. “We formed connections with Austin ArtWorks and help students use the creative side of their brains and use this way to express themselves.”

Email newsletter signup

Since Oakland Education Center didn’t have an established art program, finding community partners to help expose students to the arts and tap into their creative sides was crucial for its success.

Jenelle Cummings, a volunteer with Austin Area Arts and a recreational therapist, expressed wanting to reach deeper into the Austin community with more creative opportunities and specifically  in the school district. When she was ultimately approached to help volunteer her time with Oakland Education Center, Cummings jumped at the chance.

Left to right: Jenelle Cummings, a recreational therapist and Austin Area Arts volunteer, works with students Justin Steckman, Mikayla Pierce and Austin Bright in creating mini Christmas trees out of different materials. Instructional coach Becky Gerdes helps with detangling some garlands to supply students with for their art projects.

“It was a good match,” she said of her experience with Oakland. “Within just this first year, in just a short amount of time, these kids are open. We really hit the ground running.”

To prepare for her time with the Oakland students, Cummings would bring different materials and textiles for students to work with. They’ve made wreaths out of different fabrics for more sensory experiences and also sketched in books. Mikayla Pierce started drawing more in an anime style and found it to be an almost therapeutic way to express her emotions.

“I love using markers,” Pierce said.

Austin Bright, another Oakland Education Center student, has been able to sort through his feelings through the art and was able to create during the last few classes. He found himself enjoying the program, and looking forward to each session of exploring different types of art, noting that “it’s a release of anger.”

A sample of Mikayla Pierce’s, an Oakland Education Center student, artwork that she likes to draw on Fridays through a pilot art program that’s in partnership with Austin Area Arts.

Taking some time to reflect on his own artistic side, Justin Steckman said that he has been able to see the purpose of the creative arts and how therapeutic it can be for students. From crocheting to painting to drawing ships, he found the value of having an arts program at Oakland.

“Art isn’t perfection,” Steckman said. “It helps define us as who we are and how we feel inside and out and in art.”

Since this is a pilot program, Gerdes stated that the administrators would examine the growth of students and take baby steps to see if this was something that could be continued in the future.

The time spent at Oakland and teaching students about art was one that Cumming would not soon forget.

“This experience was just delightful,” she said. “We’re coming together with a common goal. The experience here was delightful.”