It might not seem like art has anything to do with academics, but research has proved that it does.
For that reason, artist and teacher Sandi Pillsbury-Gredzens was happy to bring her years of art experience to William Kelley Elementary School for an artist-in-residence week.
"They have done studies in Britain, and have learned that if kids are allowed to tap into their creativity, other areas of academics will blossom," Pillsbury-Gredzens said.
During the week, she worked with grades kindergarten through six, teaching some art theory and the language of art, using themes defined by each grade's current science curricula.
"Probably the most challenging were the kindergärtners, simply because they don't have the fine motor skills," she said. "The fifth grade seemed the most excited. The fourth grade was my 'core group,' the group I spent some focus time with, as required by the grant."
The grant was written by Mary Aijala of the Northern Lake County Arts Board, to secure funds from the Pat Lorntson Children's Endowment for the Arts.
With all of the students, Pillsbury-Gredzens taught "modifed contour line drawing," which she called a "magical way to draw."
"To this day I use it," she said. "Even the first and second graders picked it up. It's something they'll be able to take with to the years to come."
The kindergartners' projects were based on leaves and trees. They did leaf rubbings and learned that the letter "Y" makes the basis for a good tree. First graders did dragonflies; second graders studied flowers, including the work of well-known artist Georgia O'Keefe and Pillsbury-Gredzens herself.
The third graders have been studying rocks, so they each brought a supply of those to analyze. Observation and line drawings were part of each grade's lesson, and these third graders learned that even rocks have personalities.
The fourth graders focused on water, the fifth graders on birch trees, and the sixth graders on one- and two-point perspective.
"The sixth grade topic had me stumped at first," Pillsbury-Gredzens said. "Their science lessons are on math and atoms." The perspective theme worked well for them. One boy took the extra-curricular assignment Pillsbury-Gredzens handed out and came back with a birds-eye drawing of a city.
The students worked from photographs Pillsbury-Gredzens brought in, something that many artists do.
"Several of the students asked if I could come back next week, and when they heard that was much too soon, suggested next spring," Pillsbury-Gredzens said.