Highlands Elementary begins free after-school art program

Regan Lowry, 10, and Alecxis Jallorina, 11, laugh as they work on pointallism paintings of trees at the Highlands Elementary after school art program on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Katharine Lotze/Signal

Tucked away in a bungalow building at Highlands Elementary School, students could be found painting pointillism trees, but in the style of impressionist Claude Monet on Tuesday afternoon.

“I like to draw a lot of nature,” said sixth grade student Nadine Van Devender, 11, as she marked her paper with dots as her friends  Luleena Diaz, 9, and Saeeya Diaz, 11, sat nearby.  “I want to learn how to make the important detail.”

The after-school art program is the first of its kind at the Saugus school, where parents and teachers are working to implement a creative arts focus in all areas of education.

“We’ve been working since the beginning of last year to get Highlands Elementary a focus school for creative arts,” said Carolyn West, president of Parent Faculty Organization (PFO) at Highlands who helps run the art program.  “This is our first class; we’re hoping this will continue and will be a regular thing throughout the year.”

West said members of the PFO as well as Highlands teachers and Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSAs) worked tirelessly for a year to open a dedicated music room and an art studio on the elementary school campus.

“We do a lot of writing and reading so I wanted to bring arts and music into the mix,” West said.

The after-school program is taught by students from the neighboring Saugus High School’s Art Club, who created the curriculum for the class on their own.

“I love art and growing up my mom was an artist,” said Marin Trunkey, a Saugus High School senior and vice president of the Art Club.  “I remember her coming into my classroom and teaching art classes when I was younger so whenever I hear kids wanting to learn about art, I always get involved.”

Trunkey said the program’s lesson plans are based off of a program her mother taught when she was teaching at different schools.

During the class, students learn about a famous artist and then create a work of art based on their chosen art technique each week.  For example, the students will use pastels when they learn about Mary Cassatt and water colors when they learn about Georgia O’Keefe.

“They will learn about different artists as well as different mediums,” West said.

On Tuesday, students were already engrossed in the medium of painting as they expressed their enthusiasm to be creative.

“I like to draw and do artsy things like DIY room décor and organization stuff,” said sixth grade student Arianna Corrales, 11.  “I’m good at drawing, but not at painting so I want to learn painting.”

Fourth grade students Keane Smith, 9, and Earma Jallorina, 9, both said they spend a lot of time drawing animals and characters.

“I usually draw magical creatures from ‘Harry Potter,’” Smith said.  “I like to draw artist stick figures too.”

“But I want to paint more,” Jallorina followed.

Currently, the PFO is funding the art supplies, but West hopes the school can receive donations from community members or grants to cover operation costs.

“We’re open to any artists in the community that want to share their work or donate art supplies,” West said.

When the program is over, Trunkey hopes the students will continue to pursue art as a form of expression throughout their lives.

“Follow art as a career path; go out and create because our history is taught through art,” she said.  “Art is something you can take with you for the rest of your life.”

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