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Summit Ridge art program encourages students to be creative, think critically

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By Deborah Swearingen

Beth Hendrix sees art as a means of expression. Art inspires imagination. It is a way to understand culture and a conduit of critical thinking.

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And this is exactly what she hopes to convey in her art classroom at Summit Ridge Middle School, where she teaches the subject in its many forms.

“(Art) enhances their school career and gives them an … outlet of creativity,” she said. “Not only are they learning the core, but they’re also learning how to express themselves through the arts. Plus, hopefully they’re enjoying themselves, so maybe it’s a hook for them to continue in school.”

Colorful art projects cover the walls of Hendrix’s classroom, where she encourages her students to dive deep into their work, create connections and to take ownership in their art. After the last bell rings signaling the day’s end, it’s not unusual for dozens of students to stick around and wrap up art projects on their own time.

One day, her students might be making Oaxacan animal clay sculptures and discussing Mexican folk art. Another day, they might be recreating a photograph in pointillism.

Along the way, she encourages creativity and critical thinking, and it doesn’t go unnoticed by her students.

“What I like most is she leaves a lot of room for creativity,” said Maya Sheehan, 13. “So there’s like a basic assignment, but then … you can make it your own in any way you want.”

Sheehan is one of three Summit Ridge students competing in the Jeffco Schools Foundation’s Equity and Excellent Art Exhibit, which opens today at the Jefferson County Education Center in Golden. The show is a collaboration of student work created at elementary, middle and high schools across Jeffco, and the artwork celebrates the perspectives of ethnic and cultural diversity.

The eighth-grader said she was inspired by her sister to pursue art and plans to continue it next year at Dakota Ridge High School.

“(Art) is a way to calm down and be creative, and I like that about it,” she said.

Fellow eighth-grader Megan Stahmer, 14, agreed, saying she’s always been a lover of the arts.

Hendrix chose the Oaxacan animal clay sculptures made by Sheehan and Stahmer for the Jeffco exhibit, as well as a mosaic piece made by Hannah Massey.

“As a middle school art teacher, they want you to do a little bit of everything, which I think is pretty amazing,” Hendrix said. “When I went to school, we didn’t have this.”

Teaching a variety of art forms keeps it interesting for both teacher and students. Additionally, for those who plan to continue with art, the eclectic assortment of projects helps students prepare for a future that may require specialization – whether it be ceramics or graphic art or drawing or painting.

“ … I try to give them a little bit of everything and then they can make a better decision when they get to the high school level,” Hendrix added.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.