Students learn empathy through art after school

On a cold Tuesday night in the O’Fallon Park neighborhood, students are inside The Meghan A. Flannery Learning Center finishing dinner and getting ready for their nightly enrichment classes. A group of students are gathered around a table filled with different colored chalk pastels. Students, like third grader Darius Holmes, have their hands covered in chalk dust as they fill their paper with different tints, shades, and tones of colors. Other students are practicing drawing 3-D shapes and learning different techniques with chalk pastels.  

The center is owned and operated by The North Campus Partnership. In addition to tutoring and homework help, enrichment classes like these provide students the opportunity to explore and learn new skills in art, science, movie-making, creative writing, book-making, and more. Throughout the year, students discover new talents and expand their education outside of the traditional classroom. 

Tuesday evenings Jenna Bauer teaches her Colorwheel Connections class. Miss Jenna, as she is known to students, teaches classic art techniques and creative writing along with giving students a unique opportunity to learn about human relationships while finding their individual voice. 

Miss Jenna, of Colorbridge Art Collective, started teaching her book-making class to St. Louis students in January 2015, resulting in more than 270 student handmade picture books about tolerance. The class starts in week one with a lesson on the color wheel and the relationships between colors. As students progress through the weeks and work towards making their final books, Miss Jenna wants kids to make what she calls the “hue to human connection.” 

In Tuesday’s class at North Campus, Miss Jenna revisits the initial color wheel lesson: “Colors have best friends that don’t live next door and are very different. They are opposites on the color wheel, but when they are next to each other they bring out their vibrancy and are complementary. Just like two colors, two people can be very different but when they are side by side, they can find something in common.” 

The class of elementary and middle school students read aloud a picture book and discuss with Miss Jenna the differences between the characters. Students point out that the two girls in the book are different races, talk and dress differently, and come from different places. But students also note everything they had in common. Ry’Anna Mosley, a fifth grader in the North Campus after-school program, then noticed the hue-to-human connection. “The characters are colored orange and blue which are on opposite sides of the color wheel,” she says to the class. 

In a few weeks, North Campus students will have created their own picture books. These picture books will showcase their new skills in different art techniques as well as their personal stories of human connections. The stories students tell will include themselves as a main character along with two other characters from their lives that are different from themselves. “We are making books about people who are special in our lives,” explains De’Asia Clark, a fifth grade North Campus student. “You have to figure out how they are different and how they are the same.” 

The North Campus students are excited to tell their stories and demonstrate their new found art talents. Eventually, the goal is that students will use class time to create their picture books in an open studio setting. This week, students learned how to use chalk pastels, but when they get to open studio time, students will have learned the skills to use pastels, markers, colored pencils, mixed media collages and more. 

As Tuesday’s class ends, students help Miss Jenna clean and they talk about the importance of their stories. Rodney Hutchens, a North Campus fifth grader, explains the plans for his finished book: “Our neighborhood has different portions, the good and the bad, and people from those two portions can come together and be friends, just like the characters in my book.” 

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