It is hard to face the end of a school year without getting emotional.

There are, of course, the graduations and the goodbyes. There also is the uplifting energy of anticipation. What comes next? It may be a just fun-filled summer vacation or, perhaps, a step forward into a new career or other unknowns.

Teachers, administrators, parents and students all find themselves affected by memories of the past and hopes for the future.

Just before my summer vacation, I visited two schools to honor students who participated in art challenges sponsored by Working Class. On behalf of Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA Public Media, I presented gifts to recognize the talents of these student artists.

At Canton Area Elementary School, I met art teacher Courtney Grieve and 15 students from Grades K-3 who entered the Recycled Art Challenge inspired by Working Class: Build & Grow Green.

A beautiful, sunny day in Canton – a rural community in Bradford County, PA – provided the perfect setting for an outdoor group photo. We paraded the students and their recycled art projects outside and posed them for a photo (with their smiling teacher) in front of the elementary school.

Students who participated in the challenge were Rosco Barnes, Evelyn Bellows, Kialynne Brown, Adelyn Cardona, Mackenzie Chaapel, Eloise Grace, Manual Halbfoerster, Carter Inman, Jaxson Karpinski, Michael Kinner, Hayley Larson, Taylor Lee, Emilia Pepper, Johnny Roberts, and Gavin Sharp.

Back inside the school, Ms. Grieve, who had just returned from a teacher conference, was excited about exploring new ways to enhance her classes next year. Even before one school year was over, she was getting ready for the next.

Before my visit to Canton, I had asked the teacher what art supplies she would like to have but did not have a budget to purchase. Her wish list included papermaking and felting kits for classroom use, which I was happy to deliver.

Inside the colorful elementary school art room, we talked about how important it is for students to have the opportunity to use their hands and their brains in combination. Art classes provide a perfect setting for students to explore the ideas they learn in academic subjects including science and math.

Ms. Grieve said she felt it was important for art teachers to consider how their lessons can highlight and enhance other areas of academic study. Working together, teachers can provide an enhanced learning experience that allows students to actively use math and scientific information to create original designs. It is hands-on learning at its best!

A week later, I visited BLaST Intermediate Unit 17’s Alternative Education program in Lycoming County. It was my second visit to the program this year. Earlier, I had presented an award from the Recycled Art Challenge to student DeMario Baer. This time, I returned with a second award for DeMario – who designed a math problem solving game – as well as a special honor for two of his classmates, Zack Enway and Dale Hoyles.

Zack and Dale worked together to create a board game they called “The Quest of the Four.” In a great display of teamwork, the two students drew an entire game board, character cards and game pieces by hand.

The game creators explained that players in “The Quest of the Four” would enhance their strategic abilities in battle scenarios and test their decision-making skills as they weighed the value of items they collected throughout the game. Impressive!

Zack, Dale and DeMario all were students of George Ness, a special education teacher with an emphasis on the word “special.” George, who retired at the end of this school year, choked up with emotion when talking his students’ achievements. Facing their own learning challenges, the students took on the art challenges and came out as winners. Their teacher could not have been more proud.

I am proud to know that projects such as the Working Class art challenge competitions truly inspire students to reach a bit higher, try a bit harder. However, I know the real inspiration comes from within the individuals – students and teachers – who light up the classrooms with their energy and enthusiasm.

Congratulations Zack, Dale, DeMario, and Canton’s elementary art students who took on the Working Class art challenges and did such a great job in completing their art projects.

Thank you Courtney Grieve, George Ness and all the other teachers out there who give their best day after day in classrooms everywhere.

Ending this school year with these students and teachers reminded me once again of why we started the Working Class project in the first place: to support teaching and learning and to inspire individuals to pursue their career dreams.

It is a great way to end the year … thinking about the future!

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