Many elementary school students are familiar with the exploits of superheroes like Batman and Superman, but few have heard of Water Girl, Rainbow Beard and hundreds of other personae created by students at Gladys Noon Spellman Elementary in Cheverly.
In collaboration with Mount Rainier-based nonprofit Art Works Now, Spellman students created an art exhibit called “We Are Heroes,” which explores the issues of identity, character and heroism. Five hundred students invented personalized superheroes and designed masks for them, which were unveiled March 11 during a grape juice and cheese “gallery opening” for students and their families at the school.
“Part of the lesson was to have [the students] think about what they were really good at, and how they could use what they were good at to help people,” said Bonnie Parry, the Art Works Now program director who led the art sessions at Spellman. “Water Girl puts out fires and saves people from drowning, while Rainbow Beard fills the world with awesome color,” Parry said.
Guyandie Hercules, 9, of Cheverly said her superhero, Red Girl, turns things happy colors.
“If you see sad and gloomy colors while you’re sad, you might feel even sadder, so if you see happy colors, it might lift your spirits.” Guyandie said.
The fourth-grader said she learned more than just art skills while working on her mask.
“[I learned] everyone can be a hero without having superpowers or a cape,” she said.
First-grader Joshua Friesen of Hyattsville said his nameless superhero can freeze things with his sword, and that the superpower was inspired by the 7-year-old’s affinity for winter.
“I never like it when I’m super hot, but I sometimes like it when it’s cold,” he said. “Whenever I’m just playing and I’m thinking about random stuff, I sometimes think I just put [the mask] on and I just turn into the superhero.”
Spellman principal Susan Holiday said the collaboration with Art Works Now began last fall as a discussion about supplemental art classes at the school.
“It started off with looking at the need to be able to provide students with extended opportunities for art education beyond what the county was able to provide,” she said. “Our hope is that as we go through the budget process this year, that we’re able to allocate some funding to support a continuation of it.”
Art Works Now founder Barbara Johnson said it is important for students to develop artistic skills alongside disciplines like science, technology, engineering and math.
“What 21st century employers want is people who are imaginative and who are good critical thinkers, and that is what good art education does,” Johnson said. “It makes us more human. It allows us to explore who we are and be in touch with ourselves.”