Kerr-Vance students reach for, and get, new heights

Oct. 03, 2013 @ 06:00 PM

Every year, Anne Almand’s sixth-grade homeroom class at Kerr-Vance Academy reads “The Twenty-One Balloons” by William Pene Dubois and creates a replica of the island colony featured in the book.

But last year, Almand’s student Anna Kathleen Spitler had an idea to use the class replica as the foundation for an art contest entry that needed to incorporate hot-air balloons.

Her idea sparked a class-wide project that earned Kerr-Vance Academy a first place prize of $10,000 for the school’s art program. The award was announced Tuesday.

“I just thought it would be really cool and a big thing if we could have a chance of winning,” Spitler said. “I didn’t really expect that we would win, but I just thought it would be something fun especially since we were already doing it.”

The Elevate the Arts school grant contest is sponsored by American Girl, in partnership with Americans for the Arts. The contest is inspired by the American Girl doll Saige, who saves the art program at her school.

“Because we are a private school, I really had doubts that they would think we were needy enough to be awarded a prize,” Almand said. “But then I looked online to see who participated and there were several private schools.”

The contest applicants were required to submit a 500-word essay conveying why art matters, along with the artwork.

Kerr-Vance Academy’s artwork submission was based on Dubois’ book.

“The really rewarding element is that we didn’t just dream it up for the project,” said Almand. “It is something that is part of our curriculum and the project enabled us to add to it in a way we never had before. My usual project is to have each child build one of these houses to represent the different countries of the families on the island.”

In the book, the island inhabitants face a catastrophic volcano and build a hot air balloon as means of escape. All 27 sixth-graders built a house and painted balloons.

The students used real balloons, covered with paper mache that were painted once they dried. They inserted Styrofoam at the base of the balloon and pushed a long, cylindrical dowel into the Styrofoam to connect the basket and balloon. The dowel was anchored in a bucket filled with rocks.

Marcia Hartness, the school’s art teacher, said students worked on the paper mache at home, but they painted the balloons in her art class.

Kerr-Vance Academy recently announced plans to apply for charter status, a response to the school’s decreasing enrollment.

“I don’t think that becoming a charter would impair or reduce our art program at all, but it is lovely to have this grant in this interim period when we have to be so guarded about where we put our money,” Almand said.

Almand said the school plans to create a committee, with Spitler as a member, to plan ways that the money will be used. She said they hope to provide something for students at every grade level.

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