Summer arts give children welcome creative space and social opportunities
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — From the time Shaye McHatten, a Presque Isle High School graduate and recent college graduate, started developing classes for Wintergreen Arts Center’s Summer Arts program, she knew that getting children together to create and have fun would become a highlight of their summer.
This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting and canceling many summer programs, she has seen children and their families grow even more appreciative of Summer Arts.
“These kids, even if they have siblings or neighbors, have been away from other kids for so long that they’re excited to be in a social environment again,” McHatten said. “Coming here gives them a good sense of normalcy.”
McHatten and her assistant teacher Danica Haskell, an incoming junior at Presque Isle High School, have been teaching weeklong themed summer camps at Wintergreen since mid-June. From June to the end of July, she is teaching Art with HeART — one of the first summer experiences she created for Wintergreen — four days a week.
The pandemic brought about many last-minute changes to Art with HeART that gave the teachers and children better opportunities to practice social distancing. After the Sargent Family Community Center and The Lighthouse — an activity building owned by the Presque Isle Housing Authority — decided to remain closed to indoor activities, Wintergreen was faced with the dilemma of finding a new location.
Dottie Hutchins, executive director for Wintergreen, said that Housing Authority director Jennifer Sweetser quickly offered the nonprofit an empty house and garage on Davis Street that the Housing Authority recently purchased.
As in previous years, Wintergreen has been able to keep Art with HeART free thanks to sponsorship from the Housing Authority and a Giving Tuesday campaign.
“Jennifer and the Presque Isle Housing Authority played a huge role in Wintergreen being able to hold Art with HeART at all,” Hutchins said. “Instead of having two locations, we decided to double the length of the program for each age group.”
Both the grades K to three and grades four to eight age groups meet daily Monday through Thursday instead of just twice a week. McHatten noted that the children typically make arts and crafts outside or inside the home’s garage, both of which give more opportunities to pair children in groups and reduce the amount of time they wear masks.
She has also given Art with HeART weekly themes, such as Welcome Week, Nature Week, Mindfulness Week and Friendship Week. After seeing Pine Street educator Sharmon Clark teach classes on mindfulness, McHatten felt inspired to also instill a calming, positive environment.
“We don’t really think about it when we’re here,” said McHatten, referring to the pandemic. “The kids can come here and express themselves and be with their friends.”
During an Art with HeART session on Thursday, July 9, Peia Grant-Boxton, 9, said she was excited when she found out that Wintergreen would still be able to hold Summer Arts. Grant-Boxton has been an Art with HeART student since McHatten started those classes four years ago.
“I like doing the crafts,” she said. “It’s exciting because we can’t really talk to people at school now.”
Ten-year-old Isaiah Dalton, a student new to Art with HeART, has also enjoyed meeting other young artists this summer.
“It’s fun to do and I’m never bored,” he said.