Building Connection Through Art and Movement

Published: September 26, 2019 | By: Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation | Category:

It takes a village to raise a child.

That’s the idea behind a summer mural project at Hoover Elementary School which aims to give kids a sense of community connectedness through art.

The proverb is something we often say but rarely stop to consider. It reminds us that parenting requires help and support, but also that children are influenced by everyone around them. At home, in school, playing with their friends—all of these environments contribute to the person a child becomes. But what happens when the village isn’t there?

For parents who come to Cedar Rapids as refugees, finding that nurturing environment for their children can be difficult. Linguistic and cultural differences can prevent economic stability at home, and they can also affect a child’s sense of belonging. When children are exposed to violence and don’t have skills or strategies to process their emotions, they may be more likely to engage in violent behavior themselves.

The It Takes a Village Mural Project looks to engage kids who are exposed to this risk. Nearly 80% of Hoover’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 36% are English Language Learners. The surrounding neighborhood has an unemployment rate of 12%, compared to 2% elsewhere. Studies show that children raised in the stress of poverty and acculturation are at higher risk of violent behavior.

The Mural Project—a joint effort between Hoover and the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy—is using art to develop emotional awareness, empathy, self-control and conflict resolution skills in Hoover students and alumni. Besides drawing and painting, the students also participate in movement games and group discussions. “Improvisational movement games give students a concrete way to see collaboration and teamwork in action,” said Suzanne Palmer of Turning the Wheel, a national nonprofit that uses movement and creativity to build confidence.

The programming, guided by an art therapist, uses the therapeutic process of self-expression and creativity to encourage emotional self-awareness in the students. At the center of the project is a mural in Hoover’s cafeteria. Spanning two walls, the colorful painting brings life to the school’s basement and depicts a vibrant African neighborhood.

The mural, much like the program itself, was inspired by a children’s book call My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me by Maya Angelou. The book tells the story of Thandi, an Ndebele girl in South Africa, and the joys and challenges she faces growing up between two cultures. The book makes use of the colorful murals Ndebele paint on the outside of their homes. The Hoover mural will depict such a neighborhood.

The Mural Project culminates in a student-planned celebration at the end of the summer. “The youth will decide who they want to invite to the celebration and how to reveal the new mural to the community,” said Rachel Rockwell, Community School Coordinator for Hoover.

Rachel pointed out that youth voice and choice are a major part of this and other SET-funded programs. “It’s important for young people to be heard,” she said. “We want to make sure they have the opportunity to succeed, and then allow them the agency to do so.”

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