Academics and Research / Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU students share art with elementary schoolers

A volunteer DU student helps Stedman students with an art project at the school's family night. Photo: Greg Henry

What started out as a paper for a leadership and engagement assignment blossomed into a project that brought visual arts to a Denver elementary school and the experience of a lifetime for four DU students.

DU sophomores Faith Williams, Cristina Gonzales, Kristen Medina and Shannon Bradley, were working on a community-change project as part of their participation in the Pioneer Leadership Program, a four-year learning experience that combines coursework and community engagement that results in a minor.

Students in the program also live on the same floor, and that’s where they devised a six-month project called “Art Ambassadors.”

Using about $600 in grant money from the Morgridge Family Foundation, the Art Ambassadors program held two all-day workshops during school hours and two after-school workshops. They brought the program to Stedman Elementary school, one of several Denver schools without an art program because of budget cuts.

The April 23 Stedman Family Art culminated the assignment. Hundreds of portraits, still lifes, paintings, sculptures and other art projects graced the hallways of the school in northeast Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood. Stedman has 350 students, and Principal Deborah Graham said about 30 percent of the children participated.

“The [DU] students came in and did a great job,” Graham said at art night. “I was really impressed with the way they prepared for it. For not having experience as teachers ‘per se,’ I thought they did a great job. I was very impressed with the DU students’ work.”

From left, Art Ambassadors Cristina Gonzales, 19, Faith Williams, 20, Shannon Bradley, 20 and Kristen Medina, 20. All four of the DU students are sophomores.

“Exposure in the sense of opportunity—providing the children with the materials,” said Williams, 20, a Denver Christian High School graduate. “Engagement—the fact that it was hands-on versus talking at them about art; and empowerment in a sense it was about giving them the chance for expression and allowing the most creativity as possible.”

Working with Stedman’s teachers and school officials helped the project go smoothly, and the kids’ reactions amazed the DU ambassadors.

“The students that did show up were just on fire for it,” said Medina, 20, of Salida, Colo., where she studied art during all four years of high school. “That was surprising to me, and maybe that was just surprising because I grew up in a town that always had art in elementary, middle and high school. And so seeing kids that don’t have art and seeing their reactions, it was something really new to me.”

All four of the young women were amazed at the support school officials, parents and the kids gave them.

“They pointed us to Stedman and they just said ‘Yes!’” Medina said. “I think they had the same feelings that they didn’t have an art program here, and art’s important for the development of kids. They were on board 100 percent.”

Bradley, who has five younger brothers, was used to being surrounded by young children.

“It’s fantastic to see the little kids covered in paint or chalk and they’d look up and smile,” said Bradley, 20, of St. Louis. “It’s just the best feeling. Just to see the smiles on the kids’ faces was just my goal.”

A goal that started with just a simple class assignment.

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