Art Teacher Tyler Pike saw a sense of pride and craftsmanship swell within students as they made holiday gifts — working to improve artistic designs, or making multiple attempts to perfect their projects.
Clay Hanukkah dreidels, Christmas tree ornaments, wreaths, decorative holiday plates, and gingerbread houses are among the many items that Mount Prospect Academy students made in the weeks before winter break.
Pike and several other MPA teachers guided students through the gift-making projects.
“For many of our students, gift-making means getting to go home, seeing the people they care about, having a gift in-hand, and being able to say, ‘I’m so glad I get to see you; here’s something I made for you,’” Pike said.
MPA provides residential placement and education for students who often come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Many MPA students can be clinically identified as emotionally handicapped, learning disabled, autistic, or other health impaired. The academy also serves students with psychiatric and judicial issues.
“Our students have been able to make gifts that they can give to their parents, guardians, or friends, which they may not have been able to afford otherwise,” Social Studies Teacher Richard Potack said.
Potack and Academic Case Manager Rosie Davis took three students to the Community Clay Center in Plymouth, N.H. The group made decorative plates while also learning about the chemistry of pottery.
“For me it was very heartwarming to see how excited the students were about pottery,” Davis said. Davis enjoyed the tactile experience of working with clay, discussing pottery with everyone around the table, and seeing people show off the work they had completed, she added.
MPA student Dominick A. said he was happy with his plate and looking forward to giving it as a gift to a relative
“Making a clay plate was really fun,” MPA Student Zach B. added. “They laid everything out step-by-step and we got to do any design we wanted.”
Zach made a plate that showed the date he is scheduled to discharge from MPA’s residential program.
“Being in a residential placement situation sometimes makes it difficult for kids to see beyond these walls, and going home for winter break means so much to our students.” Pike said.
Pike has led his students in a curriculum unit that studies international culture and fine art. As winter break approached, the lessons allowed Pike’s students to use craft-making as means to explore how different cultures celebrate the holiday season.
Pike led students in exploring the Eastern European “Legend of Christmas Spiders,” credited as the origin for the modern tradition of putting tinsel on a Christmas tree; making clay dreidels to mark the Hanukkah holiday; collaging and drawing to make “Krampus Cards,” inspired by the Central European folklore figure Krampus, known as Saint Nicholas’ opposite counterpart who punishes misbehaving children; and in crafting wooden snowmen that can be used as winter holiday decorations.
“The backbone of the Cultures Around the World Unit is an effort to increase students’ awareness of traditions and how those traditions represent people around the world,” Pike said.
“In our students' circumstance, it’s extra important to understand and accept others, because there are so many things that we may never know about each other which influence everyone’s behavior here, and I think that increasing tolerance is one way to improve the culture of our school, and hopefully students take that with them when they leave us,” Pike added.