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Valley Student Builds Elementary Students’ Confidence Through Art

Valley High School senior Ann Thomas instructs Hillside Elementary students in her art club for English Learners.

Valley High School senior Ann Thomas instructs Hillside Elementary students in her art club for English Learners.

When Valley High School senior Ann Thomas is leading her art club at Hillside Elementary, you would never guess that she used to be “quiet and shy.” She gives clear instructions to the students she works with and readily answers their many questions. Thomas says this was not always the case. As a young student, she lacked confidence and was apprehensive about discussing her cultural identity and background. Thomas only became more willing to talk about her experiences as a first-generation U.S. citizen in high school.

“It made things more fun,” she said. “I was able to build more friendships and be more comfortable with myself.”

For her honors capstone project, she decided to build that confidence in younger students. Thomas started an art club for English Learners at Hillside Elementary school.  Almost 30 second- and third-grade students work with Thomas on art projects every Wednesday after school.

“I didn’t want them to have to wait until high school to accept themselves and their backgrounds,” Thomas said.

Two Hillside students discuss each others' artwork during Thomas' art club.

Two Hillside students discuss each others’ artwork during Thomas’ art club.

For each class, Thomas plans meaningful projects in a variety of mediums and styles. Through winter-themed artwork, sculptures, and abstract paintings based on their favorite memories, the students share their own thoughts and feelings. She also gives them a voice in the class, taking their interests and requests into account when planning the next projects.

“They’re very open to talking to each other and learning from each other,” Thomas said. “Watching that is really satisfying.”

Thomas will continue working with the students for the rest of the year and is looking for other students who might want to lead the club in the future. She is also searching for community venues that will display the student’s artwork. Her goal is for the students’ artwork to help start conversations about diversity and equity in the community.

“We can learn about this from textbooks, but it’s important to talk one-on-one,” she said. “It makes a more accepting environment.”

A Hillside student starts an abstract painting based on a favorite memory.

A Hillside student starts an abstract painting based on a favorite memory.

In her experience, that kind of environment can be achieved by spreading awareness. Thomas hopes the club will not only help these students accept themselves at a younger age, but also help them take part in the bigger conversation.

“This is an important work of (equity)—being able to talk about it without being so timid,” she said.

Keep an eye out for the club’s artwork at the Learning Resource Center!

Interested in hosting the students’ artwork? Get in touch.