HS Peer Art Program

High School

Peer Art is an adaptive art class that is going into its 3rd year at Pella High. Originally, it was started by former art teacher, Jim Emmert, but now is taught by Julie Stratton. To start off the year, students talked about working with someone who has special needs and learning more about each of the individual students. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the students from Lorri Grubb’s special education room go to the art room and receive assistance from their peers as they make their art projects. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the peer helpers work on their own projects, journal about their experiences, or learn about the projects they are going to help their friend make the next Tuesday and Thursday.

“After Mr. Emmert retired, I was lucky to get to step into this teaching assignment. I am so impressed with our students who are involved in this class! The Adaptive Art students are fantastic to work with and they are a fun, creative bunch of artists! The Peer Art Helpers are incredible people. I truly appreciate their enthusiasm and dedication to the program. We could not do this without such reliable, self motivated, compassionate students. I could go on and on about how great they are. Overall, I am very blessed to get to work with all of the kiddos in this program. I sincerely consider these class meetings the highlight of my day! I also need to acknowledge Mrs. Grubb and all of the Associates who work with us, guiding us, because they have helped shape the program into what it is today. Mr. Fessler has also been a fantastic resource – sharing advice and ideas from his Peer PE class experiences,” commented Mrs. Stratton.

For their first project, peer art students created a block collage. They painted a cement piece shaped like a block with white glue called Jesto. Then, they could pick out pictures from magazines that they liked and/or had special meaning to them. Young artists who were not interested in pictures could paint whatever they wanted to on their blocks. One student named Nick decided to decorate his block with stickers. “Nick loved putting on stickers of all of his favorite things and he really enjoyed using many colors,” said junior Rebecca Piersma.

The blocks are now on display in the case located in the old art and ag hallway for their teachers and peers to enjoy.

Now, the helpers have switched partners and are starting to work on a new project where they are creating balls of clay and smoothing them out to create madeleines. Currently we’re working with different textures, using both simulated and actual textures. We’ve been experimenting using textures on different mediums, such as paper, aluminum foil, and clay,” elaborated senior Makaya Thompson. “Then we’re using the textures we make to create our art projects. We’re making clay wind chimes and self portraits that have a variety of textures to create a backdrop behind our silhouettes.”

Students have a lot of freedom to be creative and expressive with their projects, so no blocks, trees, or clay madeleines look the same. It is a good opportunity for the helpers to gain experience and learn more about working and being friends with someone who has special needs. For the students with special needs, it provides a chance to interact with peers, make friends, and create art.

“I think Peer Art has been such a great experience for me because I like to help others. Before, I didn’t really feel like I connected to the Peer students and I wasn’t as comfortable with them. Now, after working with them, I feel like I can better relate to them on the same level and I get to see their personalities more. You start to understand and read them, and I find it easy for me to go up to the students and talk with them when I see them during other parts of my day,” said Thompson. “In all, I think it’s given me a bigger heart for these students and made me more passionate about working with them in art.”