Seneca Elementary’s school library features paintings from art teacher

Photo of Sarah Smith's paintings, featuring an elephant, panda, and lion.

Seneca Elementary art teacher Sarah Smith used her talents to beautify her school’s library media center. Her colorful creations can be found all over the school’s walls.

At most schools, the library media center is a place for checking out books and conducting research. But, at Seneca Elementary School, it’s also a space for promoting literacy through welcoming, kid-friendly paintings.

This past summer, art teacher Sarah Smith painted 10 animals on the walls of Seneca’s library media center. Ranging from a cat to a panda and a crab, the characters represent not only different literary genres, like science fiction, mystery, and sports. They also depict Seneca students’ favorite animals.

“Our library media specialist, Shelle Schnell, set up a survey that students could complete on their S.T.A.T. devices,” said Smith. “I then took the results and created characters using the different book genres.”

Working on the paintings over four days, Smith said they took between 10 and 15 hours to finish. While she enjoyed painting all of them, she mentioned that some of the images have a special significance to her and the school.

“Of course, I love the art elephant,” she said. “I also made sure to include a wolf since that is Seneca’s mascot.”

Photo of Sarah Smith's shark painting.

The shark is one of many warm paintings Seneca Valley art teacher Sarah Smith worked on this summer.

When students and faculty returned to Seneca last month, Principal Jason Feiler said everyone was impressed by the paintings.

“The faculty and students were really excited,” he said. “The students were excited to see the animals that they voted for featured on the walls.”

More than just generating enthusiasm, though, Feiler and Smith explained that the images serve other purposes, too. For Feiler, they encourage belonging and creativity.

“The paintings definitely make the media center more inviting, and they make it feel like an elementary school,” he said. “I think the animal characters in costume create a sense of imagination and magic for our students.”

Similar to Feiler, Smith also thinks that the images promote creativity, though with a particular emphasis on literacy.

“I think that the paintings help students get excited about all the choices of genres they have to pick from in the library,” she said. “They can use their imaginations and then see how some of the characters might relate to what they are learning and discussing in class.”

Photo of art teacher Sarah Smith's character paintings.

The nonfiction wall at Seneca Elementary features a penguin, a crab, and a wolf wizard, thanks to the summer efforts of art teacher Sarah Smith.

Apart from the paintings, however, Smith said Seneca supports literacy in other ways, too. Each month, the school runs a program called “Growing Book by Book” to motivate students to read at home. In addition, through Seneca’s “Buddy Reading” program, students in different grades meet once a quarter to read to each other. And, every March, the school also holds a “Reading Spirit Week” in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

“I’m so proud of how teachers and staff at Seneca promote literacy for all students,” said Smith. “We try to reach out to kids through all venues – whether it be art, music, reading, sports, or math. It was very rewarding to be able to create the paintings and encourage students to make the connection between art and literacy.”

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