standing Hope Valley Elementary School

Hope Valley Elementary School. Sun file photo

HOPKINTON — Hope Valley Elementary School is one of 20 schools across the country to have been awarded a “Champion Creatively Alive Children” grant. The winning schools were selected by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the Crayola crayon company.

Hope Valley school received $2,500 and an additional $1,000 in Crayola products. The objective of the grants is to encourage children’s creativity in schools and increase student awareness of their communities’ cultural traditions.

“Crayola believes that for students to reach their full potential and grow into self-motivated learners, their creativity and critical thinking skills must be nurtured,” Crayola's Executive Vice President of Strategy and Education Chuck Linden said. “We believe children develop these 21st century skills when educators ignite their imaginations through art-infused education.”

Each of the Chariho district’s four elementary schools is developing a specialty, part of an effort to attract and retain students. Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said the grant would enhance the Hope Valley school's arts focus. 

"I applaud the initiative shown by the Hope Valley community,” he said.  “The award of this grant aligns perfectly with Hope Valley's specialty school's focus on the arts.”

The application was initiated by art teacher Amanda DiFranco, special educator Kasey Girton, Spanish teacher Dori Carpenter and Lynn Larned, the school nurse.

Hope Valley Principal Giuseppe Gencarelli and Chariho Development Officer Katie Kirakosian applied for the grant last June and learned on Oct. 15 that the school had been selected.

“It’s an honor, because it’s a nationwide grant that we applied for and only 20 schools are selected,” Gencarelli said. “It was a rather lengthy application — I think it ended up being about 10 pages. They asked a bunch of different questions: Your ‘what if’ opportunity, if we were to receive this grant, your outline, goals and objectives. They wanted us to define what success would look like and how we’ll measure it.”

Kirakosian said the application required that the school envision incorporating the arts into several diverse curricula.

“What if we tried to integrate English Language Arts and Social Studies and World Language, health, art and music, all into different collaborative opportunities within the school itself,” she said.

The school will receive the cash award and the Crayola products in early November. Much of the monetary award, Gencarelli said, has already been allocated to several projects.

“We’re taking $300, plus the Crayola products that we’re going to receive and we’re going to use that for students to create diverse art projects,” he said. “We’ll end up using some of that to share with our digital pen pals. We’re looking for a Spanish-speaking country to share some of our cultural awareness with. That ties into our world language program.”

The school will use $700 to create a therapeutic space adjacent to Larned’s office.

“We’re  going to use art as therapy,” Gencarelli said. “We’re looking to buy maybe an easel, a table, drying rack more art supplies, a CD player if someone needs to have some mindfulness time and just listen to music. When children are dysregulated, they might go to the nurse’s office. Our nurse is amazing. She’s on board with helping us create this space.”

Kirakosian said she had been particularly impressed with the therapeutic initiative.

“When the idea was first circulated, I thought ‘what a novel way of uniquely integrating health and wellness and art into a therapeutic space,’ which I think is a really cutting edge idea I had never heard of before,” she said. “I’m really excited to see how this plays out and see how it might help support Hope Valley students where and when they need it.”

Additional award money will go to the after school drama club, which will create theater sets and costumes for productions, and some funds will go toward initiatives that focus on the arts as cultural expressions.

“We want to have more culturally-based assemblies, especially regarding our local Narragansett Indian Tribe,” Gencarelli said. “We have connections with them, and the Tomaquag Museum. We want to focus on the significance of indigenous arts.”

The final project will be a student blog, which will provide an outlet for sharing the arts.

“We’re using district and PTO funds as well,” Gencarelli added. “So even though we received $2,500 from Crayola, there’s another $3,000 coming from district funds and PTO to help make our vision exactly what we want it to be.”

Gencarelli will provide a mid-year update to the National Association of Elementary School Principals and Crayola and issue a final report at the end of May.

“This project is all about having kids be creative and critical thinkers,” Gencarelli said. “We’re really trying to do a lot with arts-infused education at our specialty school.”

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