Take that

‘Take that, COVID’: Harding Elementary students throw paint in therapeutic project

Twenty 4th graders from Harding Elementary – dressed in aprons, boots and goggles – braced themselves for the inevitable paint splatter when one student pulled out a huge slingshot full of paint before letting go. In unison, the students shouted, “Take that, COVID!

Students at Harding Elementary School had a chance to deal with their emotions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning with both hands-on slingshot and blindfold painting projects at the end of the month latest. The students were barely able to contain their excitement as each of their peers removed the slingshot, each sitting on the edge of their seat and clapping loudly each time the slingshot was dropped.

Artist Luke Lamar and District Superintendent Hilda Maldonado help a student prepare his slingshot full of paint. | Credit: Courtesy of SB Unified School District

Veronica Binkley, principal of Harding Elementary, said the project was created to empower students to process everything they’ve experienced during the pandemic, whether positive or negative. All students from transitional kindergarten to grade 6 of elementary school participated in the project, a total of approximately 270 students. Dr. Sean O’Brien, consultant for the STEAM program, and Luke Lamar, a local artist, guided the students through the project, giving them advice and encouragement as needed.

The first web with the slingshot in place was about “letting go,” and Binkley even encouraged students to shout, “Take that, COVID!” as they let go of the slingshot. The second web, set about 20 feet from the sling, was aimed at envisioning the future, and the students were given special glasses that blacked out their vision to help them focus their intentions. “We want you to focus on the feeling,” O’Brien told the group of 4th graders. “When we close our eyes, it allows us to live a different experience.”

Harding’s psychologist, Jill McGonigle, said the project aims to empower students to process all the emotions brought on by the pandemic and express them productively. “[We wanted to] giving voice to every child’s lived experience of COVID and acknowledging how it has impacted them as well,” McGonigle said. “We intended to create something special and meaningful together to honor their stories and commemorate this time in their lives.”

The first stage of the project involved McGonigle going to an individual classroom and explaining the project to the students, giving each student a small square of paper to write words or draw pictures that represent how they felt at the height of the pandemic. These small pieces of paper were then printed onto a canvas, allowing the students to project the paint directly onto their drawings.

Some of the drawings featured images of Zoom lessons, while other children wrote how happy they felt to be spending more time with their families. Other drawings depicted graves or family members they had lost to COVID-19. “Many students have lost family members to COVID. Many have felt very isolated and fearful during the lockdown,” McGonigle said. “It was truly a cathartic and therapeutic experience to recognize them in this way and to give voice to their stories.”

Harding Elementary students wear boots, aprons and goggles to prepare for their art project. | Credit: Courtesy of SB Unified School District

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