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Trash becomes treasure during bucket art project

Art project is lesson in inclusion

Wyoming Oriole Park Elementary School fourth-grader Aurora Coffman dipped a brush in bright red paint and applied it to a large plastic bucket in long strokes. A natural artist, Aurora was setting an example for the rest of the class.

“She is such a fantastic artist and excels really well in an activity like this and being with her general-ed peers,” said third-grade teacher Kristen Accorsi.

Aurora and her fellow students were creating planters out of buckets. After painting them and letting them dry, they would add a layer of polyurethane and glitter before filling them with dirt and plants. Final products are being donated to residents of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans later this month.

‘We are transforming these ugly plastic buckets into things of beauty capable of growing nature.’

— Steve Edalman, artist-in-residence

The two classrooms of third-graders and students in teacher Laura Sluys’ special education class recently worked together on the artistic project in partnership with the program, Artists Creating Together. Sluys received a grant from the organization, which empowers individuals with disabilities to learn, grow, and celebrate through the arts. Artist-in-residence Steven Edelman worked with students for six weeks (remotely through Google Meet due to COVID restrictions).

Aurora said she’s enjoyed painting buckets. “It’s really cool,” she said. “I painted a cute kitty on it.” Plus a highlight for her was turning children’s books into lovely collages.

Third-grader Amy Hernandez and fourth-grader Aurora Coffman work on their art

From Buckets to Beauty 

Edelman said he was impressed with the students’ work. The theme for his visits was “Turning Trash into Treasures.” He explained the purpose of the project to students: “We are transforming these ugly plastic buckets into things of beauty capable of growing nature.”

Sluys, who has received ACT grants in the past, saw the opportunity to have her students work with Accorsi’s and fellow teacher Sheri Adams’ general education students. She paired them up after her students had worked with Edelman for several weeks, so they could help be leaders among their peers.

“The theme for ACT this  year is ‘We all belong,’” Sluys said. “I thought this would be a great way to show belonging because art crosses boundaries of belonging. I thought it would also be really cool because my kids could take some leadership opportunities because they’ve already done it.”

Accorsi saw the project as a great opportunity for inclusion. “Students are learning about compassion and how to share our talents,” she said. “We can use our tablets to help others and show kindness.”

Students had fun beautifying their work. Third-grader Julian Echeverria swirled in green paint to a blue base on his cylindrical canvas.

“This looks like an actual Earth,” Julian said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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