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Art Making Helps Students Develop a Growth Mindset

Feeling a sense of belonging at school isn’t just important for a young person’s academic success. It’s tied to a host of other positive outcomes, according to the CDC. Data shows that when kids feel connected to their school, they are less likely to experience poor mental health, and they even have a protective factor if they are facing stress, adversity, or marginalization.

Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago’s team works closely with school leaders in our partner network to identify how our services can foster school connectedness and empower students to achieve in school and in life. Sometimes this means facilitating groups during the school day where students can build positive connections with their peers. Sometimes this means linking students with community organizations who offer enrichment programs inside their classrooms. And sometimes this means meeting a specific need so that all students have the resources to thrive.

Art Making as an Outlet

At Acero – Tamayo, a CIS elementary school partner on the Southwest Side, Student Supports Manager Bernadette partnered with the principal to ensure that all students had a positive outlet in the school building. With funding for arts programming falling short this year at Acero – Tamayo, the principal was interested in providing students with a creative outlet, and he worked with Bernadette to pilot an art club. The principal and Bernadette then encouraged select middle-school students, particularly those who were not already involved in the school’s athletics programs, to join.

This spring, the art club launched – and with great success. Students met after school once a week and were provided with a space to express themselves. “Questions about whether the work building the club was worth it immediately melted at the first meeting,” Bernadette said, “when one student expressed, ‘Wow, doing art is so calming.” Bernadette’s art club allowed students to explore a variety of mediums. One week, the art club followed along with a Bob Ross oil painting demonstration. One week, they did optical illusion drawings. One week, they used polymer clay to sculpt and were able to take home their creations and finish them in the oven.

But art making wasn’t the club’s only benefits. Each week, the students learned how to approach their art projects with a growth mindset. When aspects of their creations didn’t turn out exactly the way they intended them to, they learned how to embrace uncertainty and adapt along the way. They also learned how to use art as a coping strategy – something they could do to calm down, practice mindfulness, and even gain confidence.

A male student examines an object as part of an art making activity

The Journey of Art Making

There was also something special in the journey, Bernadette said. The young people in the art club did something difficult together, and in that process, grew together, finding comfort in each other at each turn. On the last day, Bernadette put out all the supplies they used throughout the sessions and encouraged students to use whichever supplies they wanted to. Everyone was talking and joking around, Bernadette said. It was a great way to end the series. Yes, art making was the draw to the club, but there was much more to it to that, even if the students didn’t always realize it.

Acero-Tamayo’s principal Matthew Katz was equally pleased with the impact of the art club. “Bernadette’s work has impacted every corner of Tamayo over the last year and a half,” he said. “She is a passionate and creative advocate for students, looking for solutions and opportunities in the midst of challenging circumstances.” He added: “The students, teachers, families and school culture are all benefitting from her many talents and contributions.”

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