Rose Park Elementary: Creating Art, Changing Lives

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photo courtesy of Karyn Mehus

In Billings’ public schools, art is not introduced as a separate subject with a dedicated art teacher until fourth grade. At Rose Park Elementary, parents, teachers, and those in the community with a passion for art have teamed up to bring specialized teaching and supplies into the younger classrooms. The best part is, it’s all for a good cause.

Through the involvement and organization of the Rose Park Elementary PTA, the elementary school has partnered with local colleges to bring in college students with art majors to teach an hour-long art session to elementary students from kindergarten through fifth grade, including special education classrooms. During the session, and under the creative direction of the college student, the class creates a collaborative art piece that is then framed and ready for what comes next.

photos courtesy of Karyn Mehus

And what comes next is a beautiful thing! The original art pieces created by each classroom are sold or auctioned to raise money for a new, all-inclusive playground for the school that will allow all children, regardless of their physical limitations, to play together.

This art initiative at Rose Park Elementary has become a brilliant picture of how art can benefit and breathe life into a community. Young children are receiving specialized art training and utilizing supplies donated from the community. College students are sharpening their art and teaching skills by getting real classroom experience. Parents and volunteers are engaging with students in a unique way. Local businesses, like Big Sky Coffee Roasters and Black Dog Coffee House, are displaying the artwork for the community to enjoy and purchase. And these purchases are contributing to the success of a school playground that reimagines how children with special needs play and interact with their typically-developed peers.

Karyn Mehus, a member of the Rose Park Elementary PTA, has spent time volunteering in the classrooms during the art collaborations. “To see the children move from restlessness to mindfulness once they are putting color to paper or canvas is remarkable,” she describes. “A child given the opportunity to create from their individual gifts is a gift to us all. To unleash the creative this way gives rise to new ways of being that include, but are not limited to, a sense of acceptance and well-being. It was an added bonus to let the children know that their art would help fundraise for the Rose Park Elementary School all-inclusive playground.”

Rocky Mountain College student Jessica Novak has had a similar experience through her work with this initiative. “By working on collaborative projects, the students have learned the power of teamwork and how working together can achieve a larger goal and bring people together.” Jessica is a student leader in the Office of Community Engagement at Rocky Mountain College. Through her work at Rose Park Elementary, she says she has learned how to create lessons that students are interested in and that have larger ties to our community. “It is incredibly inspiring to see how willing the students are to help their peers and be involved with a project that will allow all of the students to play together.”

To learn more about the all-inclusive playground initiative, visit www.everychildplaysbillings.org.

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s June 2018 issue.
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featured photo by Jana Graham Photography

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