Originally published in the Scranton Times by BROOKE WILLIAMS

Family, friends, nature, home, books and colorful, cute things.

These are just a few examples of what Tunkhannock Area sixth graders highlighted in this year’s Artist-in-Residence program, where the theme was gratitude.

Each year, the intermediate center art department invites a professional artist in to teach classes and work on a project that becomes a permanent part of the building’s art collection with a group of sixth graders called the Art Core.

This year, Dallas-based artist Leigh Pawling returned to Tunkhannock Area for the third time to guide 24 sixth graders through painting the stair risers in the main lobby that lead to the second floor landing area.

Students paired off or individually painted something they feel grateful for in their lives.

Pawling came up with this year’s theme while trying to think of a way to spread a positive message to Tunkhannock Area students.

“Studies have been shown that when you practice gratitude, your health improves,” Pawling said. “I was trying to think of something that would not just be an art project, but convey something the kids could maybe learn for the first time or be reminded of, and also the school. Everybody benefits when that kind of energy is swirling around.”

Sixth graders Myah Dailey, Victoria Kudak, Alexis Harding and Chasity Jackson all joined the Art Core group in February and agreed that art is their favorite subject.

“When I’m on my phone doing a picture or something, no one can pull me away from the screen,” said Kudak.

“I sketch a lot,” Dailey added.

For Dailey, joining in on the big project wasn’t just a way to do an activity she enjoys.

“I want to make an imprint on this school,” she said. “What’s better than making an imprint by doing art that’s going to be there for who knows how long?”

Being in the Art Core group also helps students who want to pursue careers in art.

“I thought if we do something that we like to do and might be a part of our future careers, you can get more experience while you’re younger so you can keep growing onto that,” said Kudak, who hopes to work for Pixar one day.

All four young artists benefited from Pawling’s teaching, as she equipped them with new tips and techniques.

“I loved meeting Leigh,” Dailey said. “Just seeing how her every day life is and what she’s grateful for, that was really interesting.”

Seeing the final product was also satisfying for the Art Core students.

“It made me feel really proud of myself,” Harding said.

“It’s cool for people to see what I’m capable of with doing art,” Jackson added.

Other students who participated in the Art Core group were Bethany Banos, Heaven Beiber, Nadiya Berry, Sarah DeMarco, Kaylee Fryer, Nate Gundling, Mckenzie Hannon, Luke Hutchins, Andrew Lance, Rose LoBuono, Kylee Mills, Jenalee Newhart, Cadence Teel, Paige Travis, Melanie Valdez, Anthony Williams, Eva Whitman, Carli Wilson, Logan Zdaniewicz and Ryan Zhu.

This was the 21st year for the Artist-in-Residence program, which TA art teacher Debbie Donowski began with retired TA art teacher Judy Szychowski.

Donowski loves working with Pawling, who she called a “team player.”

“She is a gentle soul who is very likable and works well with the students,” she said. “She challenges the students.”

Through working with a professional, students are exposed to the business aspect of the art world by hearing the personal experiences of someone who makes a living through art.

“There is a difference in making art for a client or customer and making art to feed your soul,” Donowski explained. “Neither is good or bad, just different types of art. Artists often make both types of artwork to pay the bills.”

“Also, the artist employs ideas and techniques that are new to the art teacher as well as the students,” she added. “It’s an opportunity to learn and grow alongside of our students.”

This year’s resident artist hopes working with the students showed them the possibilities of art-related careers.

“Not necessarily just being a fine artist, but there are all sorts of things available,” she said. “Everything is designed or made by an artist, so just to know that exists.”