Bee your best
Art's Corner by Miriam Pickens
By Miriam Pickens
There is a neat project currently on display in the Youth Gallery at the Copper Country Community Arts Center (CCCAC) in Hancock. It consists of many hexagonal cells connected in groups the way they would be in a beehive. Some are flat and some are dimensional, and they are all colored by students at Houghton Elementary. The theme is kindness and interconnectedness.
“Being that we’re beekeepers at Houghton Elementary, and we’ve often been in awe over the elegant structure of the honeycomb; how the hexagon creates the most efficient use of space…so it naturally fit…” said Melissa Hronkin, art teacher at Houghton Elementary.
Yes. The fit was perfect. Hronkin has been resourcing The Hexagon Project, which is a source of lesson plans and ideas for educators and communities who aspire to bring social-emotional learning into their classrooms and their communities. This year the overarching theme for The Hexagon Project was kindness; a great thing for children to think about given all the heavy stuff going on in the world right now.
“And”, Hronkin said, “the interconnectedness of nature (honeybees) with humans was just another layer of that.”
The project is beautiful. There are so many expressions of kindness, from the simple “bee kind” to the more complex “sometimes it takes only 1 act of kindness 2 change a person’s whole life”. There are rainbows, flowers and so many honeybees; but also mazes and Ukrainian flags. The 5th graders often have complicated relationships with this concept, having experienced so much more than the 1st and 2nd graders. Art class is a place in the school system for children to express themselves in a different way than in most academic areas, and this is especially important for youngsters who are experiencing challenges.
Another interesting aspect of this project is that it was collaborative, with the hexagons all being interconnected. Hronkin noted that many of the cells don’t have names on them, because they are each a part of a whole. One positive feature of collaborations that Hronkin noted is that it takes some of the pressure off the student to create something special. Some of the cells seem simple, with one color and no writing or designs, but in the assemblage, they stand out as a beautiful space.
Hronkin also teaches a yoga/art class at Fresh Coast Yoga in Houghton, co-owned by Mary Jennings, Brigitte Morin and Drew Cramer. She started working there last summer, doing adult yoga classes, and later launched the children’s classes. She has just completed a 95-hour Children’s Yoga Certification from Soulwork Studios in Canada, which included a practicum. Her practicum was on mindful art and movement, and Hronkin prepared a video of that which will be part of the training curriculum.
This summer, Hronkin is offering three different classes. “Mindful Art and Movement” will be on Saturdays, July 16 and August 20, from 1-3 p.m., aimed at upper elementary and teens. It’s a two-hour block, starting with some yoga-based movement followed by an art project. In the Youth Yoga Series, there will be a set of classes for parents and small children, which will also incorporate storytime, on Wednesdays beginning July 11 from 10-11 a.m. Another will be specifically for teens, which will incorporate writing or journaling as well as art and movement, on Mondays from 2-3:15 p.m., starting on July 13. She has done projects like painted rocks, origami and mandala coloring, and though each presents a different challenge, it’s neat to see how much easier it is for the students to focus in on the project after 30-45 minutes of movement. Generally, when a person enters a new situation, the nervous system is somewhat “dysregulated”. A session of movement and mindful breathing will settle the nervous system so the person is more centered. For more information and pricing, check out the website at www.freshcoast.yoga.
Mindful breathing for up to five minutes before starting an art project is something Hronkin does with her classes at Houghton Elementary because it helps the students to become more settled and centered before they start their work. The students have learned to come into the class and start settling down right away. There’s a glitter jar at the front of the class, and she shakes it up and the students can feel their breath and their bodies settling as they watch the glitter settle to the bottom, at which point they’re ready to discuss what they’ll be doing and start creating. Hronkin is hopeful that they will take this into other settings; breathing through anxious moments into a calmer space can be an incredibly helpful life skill.
Hronkin is part of a 5-year project with an $8.5 million grant through the National Art Education Association, in partnership with the National Associations for Theater, Music and Dance. They have launched the Connected Arts Networks to do the work of building a sustainable program for arts educators with a focus in Social and Emotional Learning as well as Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
Hronkin said “They’re seeing that in our culture, plus post-pandemic and politically what’s happening with trends right now, that these are areas that the arts can really help to lead, … given my training, particularly through yoga; I’m really excited to be part of this group of about 15 art educators from around the country. I’m hoping I’ll learn new things and also produce resources and materials for teachers.”
We are so lucky to have good arts education in the Keweenaw. Between the art centers in Calumet and Hancock, the Finnish Folk School at Finlandia and places like Fresh Coast Yoga, there are lots of good opportunities for people of all ages to access this enrichment.