Art Discovery program thrives in Evergreen Public Schools elementary classrooms

Volunteers spark creativity, appreciation for world of art

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



When Shae Cecka enters Ryan Larrabee's classroom at Endeavour Elementary, a student shouts: "It's art!"

Cecka is one of 350 Art Discovery volunteers who teach art lessons once a month in elementary school classrooms in Evergreen Public Schools.

Cecka's lesson today: help fourth-graders paint their own version of the Mona Lisa, the most recognized painting in history. Displayed on a classroom table, the Mona Lisa smiles coyly for the enthusiastic students. Next to Mona is an inspiration for today's lesson: Miss Piggy as Mona Lisa.

Art Discovery Program

• Who: 350 art volunteers.

• Where: All 21 elementary schools in Evergreen Public Schools.

• Why: Teach art lesson in a classroom once a month.

• What: More volunteers needed.

• Info: Kate Altenhof-Long, Art Discovery district coordinator, Evergreen Public Schools.

• Phone: 360-604-3962.

• Web: Click here


Cecka begins by asking questions:

"Who remembers the title of this painting?"

"The Mona Lisa," a student offers.

"Right! Who is the artist who painted the Mona Lisa?"

"Leonardo da Vinci," another student says.

"Raise your hand if you can name one of the other three Renaissance artists we studied?"

If you go

• What: Art auction to benefit the Art Discovery program. Auction of 12 works by Heidi Hansen.

• When: View and bid on art until 6 p.m. Dec. 6.

• Where: New Seasons Market in Fisher’s Landing, 2100B S.E. 164th Ave.

• Info: LeeAnn O’Neil, community coordinator.

• Phone: 360-760-5005.




In an earlier lesson, the students had drawn their own variation of the Mona Lisa on canvases. Now it's time to paint their masterpieces. Students gather around their teacher, Larrabbee, who squeezes dollops of paint from tubes onto dessert-size paper plates.

Cecka demonstrates how to mix paint, apply it to a canvas, cover lines and blend colors. The room is quiet. All students seem to be engrossed in the project.

Olivia Hohmann, 9, is painting Mona to resemble Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. She says her mother showed her some Kahlo self-portraits.

"I gave her a unibrow. And a pierced nose," Hohmann says. "She looks like somebody who would never get a piercing."

Andre Bautista, 9, gave Mona anime eyes and an off-center anime mouth.

Cameron Roberts, 9, says his painting is titled "Mana Lisa." He painted a man with a beard and purple ears.

Lily Ngo's Mona has tall rabbit ears, green eyes and a blue nose.

Likeke Avilla, 9, is painting "Mona Lisa Extinction." A horned monster, teeth bared, is poised to bite off Mona's head. Her round eyes are very big.

By now, the room is buzzing with kids talking excitedly about their artwork.

The Art Discovery program is coordinated by Kate Altenhof-Long, who started as an Art Discovery volunteer in her daughter's classroom at Riverview Elementary School in 2000. Soon she was recruiting and training all the school's art volunteers. Finally, the district hired her to coordinate the program made possible by volunteers.

"What if schools had enough art materials and volunteers?" Altenhof-Long asked. "Maybe people in the community might want to volunteer, but they don't know anything about it."

Art supplies are paid for by school parent groups and other donations.

Most schools share construction paper and paint. Sometimes the program receives a grant to help purchase clay and other more expensive supplies.

"It's completely different every time," she said. "Painting one month. Clay or charcoal the next."

The 66 art packets were compiled by the program's first coordinator, Sharon Springer. Students can have a monthly art lesson throughout elementary school without repeating a lesson.

Altenhof-Long walks around the classroom, stopping to admire student artwork. Stepping to the sink to help students wash out their brushes, she said, "These are cool experiences students might remember forever."

"It's the coolest thing I've ever done," said volunteer Cecka.