When Anadalay Garcia, 11, thinks of how to describe her six years at Harmony School of Excellence, she thinks of two words: roller coaster.
The ups were the friends and teachers she met at the school on Betel Drive and maintained relationships with all six years.
“It feels amazing that we’ve gone through all of elementary school and are now about to go to middle school,” she said. “And since I’ve been here since kinder, it’s like the teachers were watching me grow up and I’m kind of surprised they still remember me.”
The very big down was a coronavirus pandemic that has lasted more than two years and caused much isolation, and sad feelings for her and many of her friends.
Now Garcia and other art club members at her school are ready to express those mixed emotions — about their elementary school years and surviving a devastating pandemic — in a special end-of-year exhibit, “Primary to Secondary, A Farewell to Fifth Grade.”
The exhibit, at Galeria Lincoln, 3915 Rosa Ave., will have its opening Saturday and be on exhibit through June 1. It will feature a range of art from ceramic and papier-mâche sculptures, two interactive murals, and paintings.
Art teacher Daniel Short said the idea of the exhibit came from his art students who used art as a sort of therapy during the pandemic, often asking him for ideas or things to do outside of class.
“During the pandemic, a lot of the students were home and bored and I spent a lot of time outside the classroom, researching and emailing them, try this out, etc.,” he said. “When they came back, the students asked, ‘Can we do an art show? This is our last year with you. Can we show what we’ve learned?’ “
From there, Short created the art club to provide more time for the students to design sketches, figure out which art materials they wanted to use and then work on their unique projects.
The result was impressive and surprising for Short.
“They started producing art left and right and it just took me cleaning it up and getting it ready to frame. It was a lot less about fundamentals and more about emotions, especially coming back from the pandemic,” he said. “They came up with some powerful pieces.”
Among the most poignant art pieces is one by Jakob Garcia, 11.
“His piece is about his experience in COVID,” Short said.
Garcia took a self-portrait of himself, wearing a face mask, and then incorporated it into a charcoal piece. He did a charcoal picture of himself and all around the mask, it’s super dark. On the actual mask, he took red paint and wrote the emotions he was feeling while being schooled on Zoom and being quarantined.
“I feel like it affected my social skills because I didn’t talk to anyone except my parents and like even then, I would just say, ‘Hi,’ ‘Good morning,’ ‘How are you?’
“I was very isolated,” he said. “And it made me more aware of germs. Like before I wouldn’t put on hand sanitizer a lot if I was playing in the dirt. But now after I’m done like moving stuff around, I put Germ-X and wash my hands, just to be safe.”
Another fifth-grader, Mia Rodriguez, 11, said she transferred her emotions about social media into her interactive art project.
“I wanted to show happiness, pride, sadness, how people can bully you,” she said. “I used to have a social media that made me feel really insecure. I reflected that into a 2D and 3D artworks — how words can hurt you online and how someone you don’t even know can affect you.”
The result is a mobile that allows people to stand in front of a mirror that allows them to see their reaction to words being spun around them. The other mobile is one expressing happiness through bright colors, to show a glimpse of what makes her happy.
Short said he hopes to continue the end of elementary school year exhibit every year because of the personal growth he has seen in his students, emotionally as well as in other ways.
“I had a mentor who recently passed and he would constantly preach that there are grades and that there are relationships,” he said. “Anybody can take lessons and teach. It’s making the kids want to come and learn from you — that’s the hard part.
“He said develop those relationships and teaching comes easy. So, this year, my fifth-graders have made me realize that,” Short said. “I’ve discovered that no matter how many classes you take, how many trainings you go through, or going through any form of education, relationships have become the most important part of my teaching career.”
For the students, having art as part of their curriculum really became therapeutic during the pandemic. Ultimately, they came out stronger and kinder.
“From what I’ve seen, with all my students, this year — it was a big social change. Socially it was a lot of growing for a lot of students. … (In the long run,) they are going to be more aware. A lot of students are more open to each other because they have missed that social interaction.
“They are more understanding, more empathetic. They’re more willing to listen and learn and wanting to be here. It’s been nice having them want to participate.”
María Cortés González may be reached at 915-546-6150; [email protected]; @EPTMaria on Twitter.
Who: Harmony School of Excellence Art Club
What: “Primary to Secondary, A Farewell to Fifth Grade” art exhibit
When: Opening from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, awards at 4 p.m.
Where: Galeria Lincoln, 3915 Rosa St.
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Harmony School 5th-graders say farewell to elementary with art exhibit