Elementary students’ creative works highlight best things about Michigan

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Members of the comic interest group at Monroe Elementary School autograph first-edition copies of their collected works, the Mustang Comics, for friends and family members May 25 during portfolio conferences and the Michigan Fair at the school. Members include Madeline McCandless (left), Alec Metzger, Grace Ray, Colin Metzger and Joey Deichelbohrer.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – Michigan-born stars and the state’s natural wonders were in the spotlight Wednesday at Monroe Elementary School.

Students showcased their creativity with entries in the school’s Michigan Fair in the gym during portfolio conferences, held in each classroom to highlight an individual student’s work for their parents.

“The highlight of our evening is the student spotlight, where they each go through their portfolio in their classroom and share it with their parents,” Principal Vicki Wilson said.

Each portfolio is broken up into four sections, with student work illustrating the school vision and each of the three goals. The first is the school mission, which includes the student mission. The next three sections are the school implementation goals in reading, writing and math.

“The students talk to the parents about what our school improvement goals are, what the mission of our school is and show the work to support all three of them,” Wilson said.

The school mission also has three parts: to foster lifelong learning; to create a collaborative and positive culture; and to ensure a safe environment.

Promoting pleasant peninsula
The Michigan Fair was the third and final independent project of the school year at Monroe. It was designed to encourage student creativity while providing topic choices to match social studies grade-level content expectations. Earlier projects encouraged students to recognize everyday heroes, while another challenged them to “think like a scientist.”

For the fair, students in each grade studied a different part of Michigan and planned a presentation and visual display to support their topic, Wilson said.

Kindergarten students chose between “me in Michigan” and the state’s seasons, while first-graders explored Michigan family vacations or state symbols, such as the bird and flower. Second-graders’ options were Wyandotte or famous people from Michigan.

Options for third-graders included state history, settlers, cities, landmarks and geography. Fourth-graders were encouraged to present an aspect of its industry, economy or natural resources. Fifth-grade topics dealt with Native Americans in Michigan before European explorers or the early European explorers themselves.

Third-grade teacher Karen Golema said the project challenges students to use creativity and any medium they want, including art, sewing or a more traditional report.

“They can do anything as long as it relates to the topic for their grade level,” she said, adding that the hands-on option reinforces concepts for the school’s many kinesthetic learners.

Brigit Tennant, a third-grader in Golema’s class, created a display board about three Michigan Native American tribes, the Ojibwa (Chippewa), Odawa (Ottawa) and Potawatomi, known as the “three fires.” She said it was the first topic she explored when learning Michigan history.

Brigit’s father told his redheaded, freckle-faced daughter that she has Native American ancestry in her family tree, and that they are related to a tribe now on a reservation in the Flight River in Canada.

Golema said some student projects reflect the state’s economic challenges.

“One of the posters in particular she talks about the trouble that Michigan schools are going through right now,” she said. “That’s touching that our students are concerned about their future and the future of their schools.”

Comic relief
In addition, a comic-book creation special interest group showcased student-drawn and scripted comics while they signed autographs for their limited-edition comic book featuring student work.

“They all went through the writing process and learned about elements of a story,” Wilson said.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders participated, meeting for a half hour twice a week for eight to 10 weeks. The group includes parent-adviser and professional cartoonist Tony Miello, whose son, Nick, is a third-grader at Monroe.

Miello taught the steps to making a comic book, such as developing a story and creating a character that is interesting to them.

Fourth-grader Joey Deichelbohrer didn’t realize how many steps and how much work was involved.

“I thought you were going to be able to draw everything the first time,” he said. “I didn’t know it was going to take all that.”

Joey said he’s always liked to draw, and that his comic character just “popped into his head.” He said he worked on his comic for three to four weeks at school when their interest group met.

Miello was the comic book artist for the rock band Bowling for Soup and local television show “Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In.” He was also the artist and writer and runner-up for the “Fat Momma” character for the reality show “Who Wants to be a Super Hero?” He also created the online comic strip “GAPO the Clown.” He provides original sketch card art for Upper Deck, Breygent Marketing and Strictly Ink trading card companies.

Miello volunteers at the school and believes comic books are an art form that can be used to teach literacy. He said children at Monroe exceeded his expectations, and that he was pleased with their enthusiasm for the project.

“It was exciting for me to see them so happy to be making comic books and just drawing in general,” Miello said.

The comic books will be sold to raise money for the school.

“The kids were very excited about it, and that was enough for me to go the extra steps and try to make it a real comic for them,” Miello said, adding that they seemed surprised that drawing comics could be so easy.

“I tell them that if you can draw a shape, you can draw anything,” he said. “I tried to break down how simple it was to draw, and once you know how to draw, you can tell a story with pictures.

“I think that parents should really push comics on kids, because it’s a great way to get them reading and get them interested in the whole storytelling process and expanding their imagination.”

Third- and fourth-grade teacher Julie Lilienthal, who had about eight students in the comic interest group, said she knew she had some good writers, but that participating in the group really sparked their creativity. She said their success is having a positive impact on their schoolwork.