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Mill Valley News

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Juniors Autumn Graves and Kennedy Goertz spend two Saturdays volunteering at an elementary school clay camp

The winter clay camp, run by Riverview art teacher Elizabeth Pursell, would not be as successful without high school volunteers

For many students, weekends are for sleeping in and getting a break from a school environment, but on Saturday Feb. 3 and Saturday, Feb. 24, juniors Autumn Graves and Kennedy Goertz spent their days-off volunteering at Riverview Elementary for art teacher Elizabeth Pursell’s independently-run clay camp.

The camp was started three years ago by Pursell as a way to supplement her income but has since grown into an opportunity for K-5 students to collaborate with high schoolers through creativity and art.

“​​What I most enjoy about the camps is that the children who participate in the camps tend to be children who are very interested in art, so the engagement is exceptional and the project quality is also very good,” Pursell said.

At this year’s clay camp, students made either a snowman or a penguin, depending on their age and skill level. Each of the two camp days consist of three different sessions with two adjacent grade levels in each. Before the sessions, volunteers also attend a training, and are able to make the projects for themselves to take home so they can best help the elementary schoolers. The 90 minute sessions are each packed with creativity and fun to keep students and volunteers engaged. 

By Quin Peters

“​​Working in an art room can be overwhelming because there is a voluminous amount of art materials to manage,” Pursell said. “High School helpers in the art room are fantastic support because they can help with distribution, they help with cleanup, they help with one on one work with students, small groups and they have a wonderful experience and camaraderie they’re building with the student body at the school that continues year after year.”

Graves has been volunteering at the art camps since they began and initially met Pursell through an entirely different volunteer opportunity as a freshman. At that event, Pursell asked Graves if she would be interested in volunteering at her art camps to fulfill NHS and NAHS volunteer requirements and Graves has been volunteering ever since.

“I just walk around [and help],” Graves said. “Sometimes we pick tables to sit at that need extra special help and I will help them with whatever they feel they need at the time.”

After enjoying her experience helping at the camp, Graves invited some friends to join her for the next sessions, one of whom was Goertz.

“[Graves] invited me one time and I’ve been stuck ever since,” Goertz said. “I like volunteering with [Pursell] because she’s just fun. She’s fun to hang out with and I like to hang out with the kids.”

In addition to Graves and Goertz, other students, mainly those involved with NAHS, have helped with the camp sessions. Having many high schoolers at each session of camp helps ensure things are running smoothly, according to Pursell.

“High school helpers support the camps by giving hands on [support] to small groups,” Pursell said. “I could not do [the activities] teaching groups of 20 to 25 [in such a short amount of time without help]. The high school helpers are a tremendous support because they give one on one and sometimes hand over hand help with students in small groups.

Working in an art room can be overwhelming because there is a voluminous amount of art materials to manage. High School helpers in the art room are fantastic support.

— Riverview Elementary art teacher Elizabeth Pursell

Pursell is grateful to have the help of high school students like Graves and Goertz as well as her district so she can continue her camps. The camps are ultimately part of Pursell’s goal to provide all children with the opportunity to be creative.

“I believe that art is essential for all children and I do believe that there’s an artist in every person and that all children are artists,” Pursell said. “Art is essential in teaching basic hand skills, eye-hand coordination and appreciation. Art is also essential for those students who excel in the topic, but it also provides a safe space for kids to experiment. Also, some children who might struggle in the classroom might find a place in the art room that’s like a safe haven and a positive outlet.”

Helping with Pursell’s art camps has been a positive experience for Graves overall, and it is something she hopes to continue in the future.

“I really like helping people and I do like small kids’ energy,” Graves said. “I just think it’s fun and it’s something that is creative so everyone’s having fun with it.”

High school students who are interested in volunteering at future winter or summer art camps should reach out to Pursell at [email protected] to learn more.

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About the Contributors
Emma Clement, JagWire editor-in-chief, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief
This is senior Emma Clement’s third year on the JagWire staff. This year she is JagWire and Mill Valley News editor-in-chief, in addition to being a writer and designer for the newspaper. When she is not working on journalism, Emma enjoys reading, drawing, painting, watching TV shows and spending time with friends and family. She is also involved at Mill Valley as NHS president, Spanish NHS vice president, Youth for Refugees president, Model UN president, NAHS vice president and is a member of NEHS, Scholar’s Bowl and Women’s Empowerment Club. Outside of school, Emma works at Pinnacle Gymnastics as a gymnastics coach and is on the editorial board for elementia, the Johnson County Library’s teen literary magazine.
Quin Peters, JagWire reporter/photographer
This is sophomore Quin Peters’ first year on the JagWire staff. She will be exploring the roles of writer and designer for the newspaper this year. Outside of school, Quin crochets, reads, writes creatively and is involved in art. Quin is a member of several clubs at the school, including National Art Honor Society, Youth for Refugees, Women’s Empowerment, Scholars Bowl, Creative Writing Club and Model UN.
Maddie Martin, JagWire reporter/photographer
This is sophomore Maddie Martin’s first year on the JagWire staff. She is looking forward to writing and taking pictures for the JagWire. She is on the golf team and is a part of Relay for Life. Outside of school she volunteers with National Charity League. She spends her free time hanging out with her friends and family, listening to music and watching sports.  

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