The students of Suncrest Elementary School recently completed their second round of community portraits to connect with the community of Frankfort and Clinton County.
Gia Cooper, Suncrest Art Teacher, stated that last year’s portrait project included drawing every staff member, teacher and board member of the school district, and the portraits were presented to the muse with positive reactions. This year, the project began with new employees, school resource officers, Police Chief Scott Shoemaker, Fire Chief Matt Stidham and Mayor Judy Sheets. The portraits were recently finished and have been placed on display at Suncrest.
“Our theme this year in art is ‘who we are’ starting with our community here in Frankfort and Clinton County,” Cooper said. “Then, we’ll extend it to big picture Indiana and then touch on the states in Mexico and the countries in Central America and South America that a lot of our students come from.”
The students utilize their knowledge from previous art classes where they learned to draw symmetrical faces, learned where to place eyes, noses and lips and learned tricks on increasing the realism of the facial features to craft their masterpieces. The students receive a reference photograph for the community member they are tasked with drawing for the project, and they are instructed to identify characteristics that they want to ensure are included in the drawings, such as hair color, facial hair, eyewear and more. After the drawing is completed, the students use crayons to color the portraits where they practice being mindful of hair color, skin tones and eye color.
Cooper expressed that the project delves into more than Indiana state standards while still accomplishing the necessities of the curriculum. Cooper stated that the theme of community remains at the forefront of the project, and she strives to help students build bonds with each other and others outside of the Suncrest walls.
“Since we have such a diverse school group with people from all kinds of different places, we need to focus first on where we are all together and go from there,” Cooper said. “Hopefully, as the year progresses, we’ll be able to do famous Hispanic artists to connect to some of our students and the states that they came from in Mexico. Our theme this year is our community and expanding it to a global community and how to be good neighbors.”
One way that Cooper strives to achieve the feeling of community within her class is by playing the Mr. Rodgers theme song to begin each class period and the outro song to end each class period. Cooper commented that every class regardless of their age engages with the music, singing along and appreciating the message. Cooper stated that the music sets the tone for the class and pairs perfectly with the portrait project and its goals.
“My goal for my art room since I took this job is to make it a safe place,” Cooper said. “Art is the place where all the students can fail, and it’s a safe place to fail. That encourages them to know that we are going to make mistakes, and if we keep trying, we’re going to get better, and that carries over into their classroom where there’s more pressure not to make mistakes.”
Cooper stated that the portrait projects have been successful and have been a standout with the adults that are featured. After displaying the most recent portraits that included Frankfort Police Department officers, the department commented on the “great work” from Cooper’s students.
“Last year, the people who enjoyed them the most were the adults that they did the portraits of,” Cooper said. “They got a kick out of seeing how students saw them and tried to apply certain characteristics to the portraits. Before they would read who it was, they could recognize themselves or recognize a coworker.”
Cooper commented that every portrait will feature different aspects of the reference photos and will feature ideas from the students’ imaginations to create a portrait of the community member through their own eyes.
“It’s interesting to see what they pull from the reference photo, and then they get to design their background,” Cooper said. “I usually just have them do a solid color, but with the officers and the mayor, a lot of them put American flag backgrounds and things that were very patriotic. I thought that was interesting with the connections that they make.”
The portraits will continue being distributed to the community members featured, and other projects from Cooper’s class will be on display throughout the year. Recently, Cooper’s fourth-grade class completed a project featuring famous people of Indiana and famous places in Clinton County that Cooper hopes will reach numerous members of the community.
“I did try to reach out to the Historical Society so people who are tied to those buildings might be interested in seeing them,” Cooper said. “They’re really great pictures that the fourth grade completed, and they’re on display. I’m just going to have to find a good way of letting the community know what kind of cool things that the students are doing here so they can see them for themselves.”
This year’s portrait project will continue with drawings of the administrative office staff and additional members of the community.