By Jason Wesseldyk
Eighth-grade art students from Otsego Middle School recently had a unique opportunity.
Not only did these students get to learn a little about what life is like for children their age in Kailua, Hawaii, but they also got to share information about their lives in Otsego.
The students took part in the Art Pals Postcard Exchange Program, through which they created a postcard that depicted where they live and wrote a short note on the back telling about Michigan or the image they chose to create. Those postcards were sent to Hawaii, with the Hawaiian students sending postcards back to Otsego.
Otsego Middle School art teacher Melissa Ernstes found the Art Pals program in an online forum for middle school art teachers.
“Anyone who wanted to participate signed up as a potential school to trade with,” Ernstes said.
Before long, Ernstes received an email from Andrea Tam, the art teacher in Kailua.
“She asked if we would like to trade (postcards) with her students,” Ernstes said.
The process of actually exchanging postcards took approximately a month from start to finish, as the teachers waited for each student to complete the project.
“Some students worked faster than others and some students were absent during that time,” Ernstes said.
Once the postcards were sent, Ernstes received daily inquiries regarding updates.
“The students asked me each day if their postcards had arrived from Hawaii,” she said. “The anticipation of what they would receive was the best part.”
As Kailua is located on a beach, the postcards received by the Otsego students featured images such as sunsets, surfboarding, ocean scenes, wildlife such as sea turtles and tropical plants.
Some cards also depicted big buildings that are seen in Kailua.
“Our students really enjoyed reading about their art pal on the back of the postcard,” Ernstes said. “Many of the things the students from Hawaii liked were similar to the things our students like, such as gaming, music and spending time with friends. There were a few differences, like surfing.”
Images portrayed by Otsego students included lighthouses, beaches, skiing and snowboarding, fishing and farmland with produce like blueberries and cherries. The Mackinac bridge and fall foliage were among other drawings.
“My students were very excited to participate in the trade,” Ernstes said. “They worked hard to come up with images that represent southwest Michigan and they drew had so many great and unique ideas that represent where we live.
“We also spent a lot of time planning our images, talking about composition, how to fill the space, cropping and overlapping.”
The Art Pals Postcard Exchange Program is just one example of the different kinds of projects Ernstes seeks out for her students.
“I try to do projects that connect to our community throughout the school year,” she said.
These projects have included: the Lions Club International Peace Poster Contest sponsored by the Martin Lions Club; the Find New Roads contest sponsored by midway Chevrolet; Doodle for Google; the Tiny Gallery through the Otsego District Library; and Inktober.
“I’m always looking for opportunities to get the students’ art outside of our classroom,” Ernstes said.