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‘It’s amazing what it can do for the mental health’: Provo schools host pandemic art contest

Local News

Courtesy: Provo School District

PROVO, Utah (ABC4) – Social distancing has become a phrase used daily over the past year of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Teachers and staff within the Provo School District knew social distancing would be a challenge to returning students, so they asked students to use their creative expression to emphasize its health importance with a student art contest.

“I applaud Provo School District and our wonderful teachers for successfully finding ways to ease the back-to-school anxiety our students were no doubt feeling,” says Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi. 

Chelsea Cellar teaches art to 7th and 8th graders at Dixon Middle School and participated in the contest. 

Courtesy: Provo School District

Cellar tells ABC4 Shauna Sprunger at the district office was the contact for the art contest, and says she believes it was her idea. “The district wanted to get students thinking more about social distancing,” Cellar shares. 

She says she emailed Sprunger when she first heard the news of the contest in the school’s e-newsletter and asked her if secondary schools were a part of the contest. Cellar says the original announcement of the contest only shared information about elementary schools participating.  

“She was glad to hear there was some interest on the secondary level, and asked for my help in formulating a prompt appropriate for secondary students,” Cellar adds. “We decided the prompt would focus on why students were or should socially distance.”

Cellar says her students reacted positively toward the contest. “A lot of them were interested in participating. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of time between introducing the contest to them and the due date.” 

“I asked a few of them to revise their initial idea and really focus on the ‘why’ behind why we’re not just social distancing, but wearing masks and otherwise being cautious. They were great about going back to the drawing board’ and finding a way to visually represent the reasons important to them,” Cellar adds. 

Cellar tells ABC4 she has been “very concerned” this year about student safety as schools has had students back into school buildings. “I believe student safety should be my number one priority as a teacher, and this year social distancing is a large part of that. I also think it’s valuable for students to see how art can impact things outside of my classroom, and to get a glimpse of how entering contests like this can be worthwhile,” Cellar shares. 

“It’s been very tough and stressful on teachers and students,” Cellar says when asked what the past year teaching through a pandemic has been like. 

“It’s frankly impossible to be an effective teacher in a classroom and truly social distance,” she adds. She says it has also been hard to “actually socially distance anywhere in our schools. We are all just doing our best, and I’m trying to make this year a positive experience for my students.” 

Cellar says she wants her students to recognize that there is a strong link between art and being a happy and healthy adult, and that art can help us through the stress of the pandemic. “I’m proud of our students here at Dixon, they have overall been great about following instructions and wearing their masks at all times,” she adds. “I think they are very resilient, and they are learning and achieving so much.” 

Even though her students are resilient, Cellar says she does worry about the long-term impact this level of uncertainty and stress regarding schedule changes and academic pressure will have on her students. 

Despite the ups and downs of the pandemic and the effects it has placed on our school systems, Cellar says the biggest reward of her job has stayed the same. “When a student has that ‘aha!’ moment and the lightbulb goes off, or when a student tells me they hated art but now enjoy doing it, those are the moments that make everything truly worth it for me,” Cellar shares with ABC4. 

According to the Provo School District the contest names four winners will have their framed artwork on display at Provo City Hall, on a banner at the Covey Center for the Arts and on posters distributed to local businesses. 

The winners are listed below:  

Jane Jones, 2nd grade

Adelaide Shields, 3rd grade

Chloe Winget, 6th grade

Megan Hoffman, 8th grade

“[Art] is a huge part of being human; I think it’s inseparable from our humanity, and incredibly important for us to lead healthy and happy lives. It’s amazing what it can do for the mental health of students living through a wide-scale traumatic event like this pandemic,” Cellar adds. 

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