This week, students at a local middle school are learning to explore their internal experiences and express them through creative journaling.
Yankton’s Sacred Heart Middle School (SHMS) arranged for artist Marcia Holliway to spend the week teaching students about several ways to journal that include sketching and collage as well as writing.
“We wanted to bring someone in who has some real talent and can really expand the kid’s art knowledge beyond what we as teachers are capable of,” SHMS art teacher Pam Kallis told the Press & Dakotan. “I am the designated art teacher. We don’t have a licensed art teacher, but art is important, especially for middle school age.”
Middle school students are still trying to figure out their emotions and how to deal with them, she said.
“If I don’t know what I’m feeling, but I choose an image and I put it on paper, suddenly, I know what that feeling is; I know what that emotion is,” Kallis said. “Middle school kids, that’s all they are: emotions that they don’t know what they are.”
The school found Holliway via a matching grant program through the South Dakota Arts Council (SDAC) where she has been listed as a resource since 2013. The SDAC works to make the arts accessible throughout the state through grants, services and information to artists, arts organizations, schools and the public.
The matching portion of the grant was paid for by the Friends of Sacred Heart, she said.
“We saw there’s a long list of artists that are available,” Kallis said. “We saw Marcia and said, ‘She does journaling. We think that what she could bring to our students is of super value,’ so, that’s why we reached out and said, ‘You’re our first pick.’”
Personally, Holliway said she enjoys journaling as a way of being present in the moment.
“For example, if I’m on vacation, I might be journaling that experience. I might be drawing or collaging in memorabilia for that,” she said. “If I’m having a bad day, I can collage and journal that, as well. It’s a way to process something that’s happening to me, either good or bad.”
Also, art can be intimidating, especially for middle schoolers, Holliway said.
“You get a blank canvas — it’s frightening, right?” Holliway said. “This gives them an opportunity to put it in a book and they can close it. It can be personal and private and it’s not about creating a masterpiece, though it could be.”
Holliway said Kallis started the project by having the students each select an old encyclopedia or dictionary to recycle as a journal. Holliway began by sharing some of her own journals with the children to give them an understanding of the project. The students will work with Holliway this week and continue journaling through the school year with Kallis.
“The hope is that they will keep those throughout the years that they’re here and they’ll just keep adding to it. I’ve had other schools do that, too,” Holliway said. “I think that you can use journaling in every subject. You can journal in science; you can do some journaling in math or reading, and obviously, writing.”
The most telling student reaction to the project was a prolonged silence, she noted.
“In one of the classes today, when they started the journaling process, the class got really, really quiet,” Holliway said. “They seemed to all be getting into writing things down, and that’s a good sign.”
Sharing her love of journaling with others and seeing them get excited about it is a joy, she said.
“(It’s especially true) in South Dakota where they’ve taken art out of a lot of schools,” Holliway said. “I go into schools that don’t have art teachers, and I have kids in middle school that don’t even know what primary colors are. That’s sad to me, so if I can pass on that information and be a part of their community. It’s just fun.”
One student chose items with a common theme, while another who doesn’t always enjoy school and refused to write in the journal, did show introspection in his choice of images, Kallis noted.
“We had one little boy the very first day (who said), ‘A book!? I thought we were gonna paint a beautiful picture,’” she said, adding that art is more than painting a pastoral picture; it’s communicative. “This is exactly why we have Marcia here. You can just feel her joy of art exuding from every pore.”
Art is communicating thoughts, feelings and ideas to others without the use of words, Kallis said.
“I think it’s highly important that students be allowed to visually explore, without a graded system, (where) they can talk about their feelings, explore their ideas, explore their thoughts, and that’s why we have journaling here,” she said.
Art is for anybody, Holliway added.
“I tell a lot of people that we as humans were made in God’s image, that He is the Master Creator and we’re all creative in some way,” she said. “So, this art, this creativity, is just a part of who we are as humans. You don’t have to worry about that masterpiece. It’s about exploring and playing and, yes, expressing yourself.”