The EcoSmART project will teach elementary school students to apply creative problem-solving skills and innovative design through a weekly, art-based enrichment program that aims to promote positive self-esteem and inspire interest in the worlds of science and technology.
Environmentalists and engineers have yet to discover a way to maintain the delicate, vital balance between efficient utilization and protection of the Earth’s natural resources. As a result of recent environmental initiatives, most local communities teach young people about the recycling process and the role they have in responsibly disposing of common paper, plastic, and aluminum products. Every year, recyclable waste products are picked up curbside by community recycling programs. A portion of the recyclable waste products which are reusable material may not actually be recycled. Local programs such as Creative Reuse Pittsburgh have found innovative ways to help divert a significant portion of this waste stream from landfills and make it available again to the public. Why? Because taking these salvaged materials out of their normal context allows creative people, like those behind the EcoSmART project, to teach young people to transform these materials into renewed objects of value and beauty. Although school environments are academically focused, students are also supported in their development of resiliency skills needed to navigate life’s challenges. Through EcoSmART classes, students will have the opportunity to develop these resiliency skills as they learn to find value in unexpected places.
Working in conjunction with Art Expression Inc, a local after-school program designed to improve students’ social skills and tolerance, self-concept, and creative self-expression through visual art, young participants in EcoSmART generate innovative design techniques and facilitate the creative reuse of non-recyclable materials. For decades, artists and craftsmen have pioneered the idea of transforming discarded objects into priceless works of art and have become a prime example of “working with what you’ve got.” Professionals in the field refer to any discarded, scrap materials that are used in place of purchased art supplies as “found objects.” Whether using worn-out clothing for quilts, broken glass for colorful mosaic or dismal subway walls for public murals, artists employ their visual instincts to imagine the aesthetic possibilities of wasted materials and misused environments. Applying these same principals, EcoSmART provides school students with basic art supplies, reusable refuse items from home, and salvaged materials to create large, three-dimensional sculptures. The project culminates with the students producing a narrated PowerPoint presentation to share with classmates, teachers, administrators, and parents.
EcoSmART yields not only significant and continuing changes in the environment, but also an emotional impact on group participants. The program leads students to internalize the ideas that second chances are possible and sometimes the most precious things are overlooked at first. Students struggle with the common challenges of social exclusion, peer pressure, bullying and home life stressors. This project would gives School Districts an opportunity to support the personal growth of student participants in the EcoSmART program by helping them to positively engage with peers during these art classes, while developing the fundamental creativity and cognitive skills needed to explore the worlds of art, science and technology.