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Manchester Elementary Middle School students have creating community art to express their emotions and feelings.

Betsy Memoe and Deb Fishwick, co-principals at MEMS, had a question for their students.

“What makes you feel good in the midst of a pandemic?”

They wanted to create an outlet for hope in students returning to school from December Break in the winter of COVID.

MEMS art instructor, Jen Tallini, had an idea.

“Art provides an escape for people to express emotions and feelings,” Tallini said. “When those individual creations come together, everyone’s vision becomes part of a unified message. That’s why we call it, community art.”

Tallini’s plan was based on simplicity. Each student at school was given a 4-inch by 6-inch card and asked to use that space to create a mini artwork that responded to the question, “What are you grateful for?”

They were allowed the freedom to design whatever they wanted to express — using drawings, words or a combination of the two. MEMS school colors separated the cards into two categories: Yellow for grades Kindergarten through fifth-grade. Blue for the middle schoolers in grades six, seven and eight. Even the pre-K children had a role to play in the project as they were asked to decorate individual stars.

MEMS seventh-grader, Logan Hoyt, was excited by the assignment.

“I loved being given complete freedom to express my feelings,” she said. “I thought of how my friends have helped me grow as a person during the pandemic.

My card shows a young girl next to a blooming flower with a message thanking my friends “

Tallini, meanwhile, devised a strategy for how she wanted to showcase the work of her young artists.

A long brick wall in the front lobby at MEMS would be turned into a gallery. As the students completed their projects, the cards were arranged to spell out MEMS!!

“From a distance, you see the name of our school spoken in celebration, but as you step closer, you discover the individual creative statements made by the students of our community,” Tallini said. “It’s a snapshot of our collective, but separate, emotions at this moment in time.”

The result? More than 300 individual cards covering more than 100 square feet of wall space. On this canvas, students reflect all manner of gratitude for friends, families, pets, mountains and Vermont. There are also acknowledgments to snow, cross-country skiing, sleeping, Netflix and beef ramen noodles.

A number of students offer their favorite inspirational quotes from the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President John Kennedy, soccer legend Pele and jazz virtuoso Miles Davis. Fictional characters make an appearance as well, including Belle from Beauty and the Beast and the animated wiseman, Uncle Iroh, from Nickelodeon’s Avatar.

There is even a keen observation, given appropriately from Alice, a potent symbol of survival in the upside-down world of Wonderland: “You’re entirely Bonkers! But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are!”

When asked why some of her classmates selected inspirational quotes as a source of gratitude, Logan said, “Those words give definition to how they are feeling and what they want to be.”

Tallini also wove a message of hope into the Wall. Threading its way through the school letters are cards with the words of the author Eckhart Tolle, “Acknowledging the good in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”

Bob Niles handles communications for the Taconic & Green and Mettawee school districts.


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