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Washington Voices

Orchard Prairie wins art, science grant

Thu., April 19, 2012

When Kirsten Schierman found a small online grant for an educational project that combined art with science, the Orchard Prairie art and kindergarten teacher knew she had to apply. She just needed a project. That’s when she looked up and saw a Vincent van Gogh print.

“I was sitting next to a reproduction of ‘Starry Night,’ and our whole school unit of study this year is the solar system,” she said. “We could do ‘Starry Night’ glow-in-the-dark T-shirts.”

Schierman posted her idea on, competing with 447 other teachers for the $200 grant from Crystal Productions. Whoever received the most votes would win.

Schierman immediately put the word out to friends, family, other teachers and parents of the 74 students at the K-8 school that’s nestled between Spokane Valley and Mead. Together they leveraged social media to gather more votes, eventually winning with more than 1,500 votes.

“Facebook was the biggest helper,” she said. “The parents got behind the school and it went all over. People from all over the world voted. That’s how education should be – a whole community of learners coming together to support our little learners. It was a really empowering thing.”

Along with $200 to jump-start the project, Schierman won a Flip video camera and some products from Crystal Productions for the school. The balance of the cost, she said, was covered by the school’s PTO, though they hope to recover the extra expenses through T-shirt sales.

In preparation for the project, along with their solar system study, students visited the impressionism exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture and studied impressionist art techniques and the history of the style.

For the shirts, Schierman drew a modified Spokane skyline, including the Pavilion and Clocktower along with the Orchard Prairie school building, which was built in 1894. She had Shirts of Love, a local company, print the skyline on the front of the shirts with a van Gogh quote on the back, “For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

Then the kids painted the night sky, with each shirt a recognizable yet unique nod to the famous painting. They wore their shirts with pride on April 13for a star party on the playground with the Spokane Astronomical Society bringing telescopes and the West Valley Outdoor Learning Center supplying an inflatable planetarium.

“I like that the whole school gets immersed in learning,” said PTO President Jami Ostby Marsh as kids lined up to take turns in the planetarium. Other children ran and played while parents stood in clusters, chatting as they waited for the sun to set.

“The fact that such a small school can get huge community involvement is great,” Ostby Marsh said.

Most of the kids were eager to see how well their shirts glowed, and also were excited to take turns searching for their favorite constellations and planets in the night sky.

Conner Hansen, 10, said he hoped to find Draco the Dragon while Lincoln Hansen, 7, said he wanted to see Venus. “Venus is the coolest. It’s the littlest planet made mostly of gas, because of the clouds,” he said with a grin.

“I want to see Betelgeuse, the brightest star,” said Jon Hansen, 8, “It’s Orion’s armpit.”

“That’s part of the winter triangle,” added Hunter Hendricks, 11. “If you look for Orion’s belt, you’ll see the winter triangle.”

When asked, all the kids said making the T-shirts was the highlight of their study.

“Every shirt is different and in its own way, unique,” said Conner Hansen, pointing out the way he made visible brush strokes, like Van Gogh.

Their obvious pride in creation was one of Schierman’s goals.

“A T-shirt that a kid sees and wears all the time, that’s getting to put your art out there,” she said. “To be able to represent something you’ve learned through art is the highest level of showing your understanding. It’s an enrichment that allows kids to express themselves and see the beauty. It isn’t just doing science out of a book.”

“Art in education is a powerful tool,” she added. “It helps our kids achieve and learn and grow and

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