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Brentwood students connect through art, conversation

| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 12:56 p.m.
Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
Zane Gugliuzza sketches “What Art Connections Means to me.”
Zane Gugliuzza (left) and Brooke Pristella draw during “Art Connections” at Elroy Elementary School.
Zane Gugliuzza sketches during Art Connections.
Brooke Pristella draws during “Art Connections” at Elroy Elementary School.
Tyler Bianco participates in “Art Connections” at Elroy Elementary School.

They lay on the floor of the art room at Elroy Elementary School, sketching bright pink, blue and green images that detailed what the group meant to them.

Laughing continuously, they shared their craziest tales of “how best to your eat Pop Rocks” and talked of hopes to go on a field trip next year to the art museum.

While the drawing, crafting of murals and dream dragons were fun, what meant the most to the more than dozen students that participated in the program this past school year were conversations and friendships made through Art Connections, they said.

“I have somebody to talk to and somebody to trust,” said fourth-grader Maddie McBride, 10. “You get to talk about what's bothering you. Friends are therapy.”

“Art Connections” was started at Elroy Elementary School three years ago by then Brentwood High School sophomore LeeAnn Hlvac, who was looking for a way to use art to improve students' social skills and mentor them after school, said Barbara Girone, who teaches art at Elroy and Moore elementaries.

The program, geared toward kindergarten through fifth-graders, was led by Girone and Brentwood High School student Dillon Kortz this past year. From October through May, students met once a week after school to do art – or sometimes, when the weather was nice, play games – and talk.

Girone, who also teaches art therapy at Brentwood's elementary schools to about 47 students twice a month, said the after-school club helped improve social skills, gave students extra time to focus on their creativity and united students in every grade level at Elroy.

“They don't have to have art skills,” Girone said. “They feel really special to be a part of this group. Some of them are really quiet in class and in here they come to life.”

The students said the after-school group helped them make friends that they think will last a lifetime.

“Everybody is nice and caring and they help you,” said Skylar Schmidt, 10, a fourth-grader. “You can trust everybody. It's not like you're the only one when you're here.”

“My favorite part of Art Connections is getting to see everybody,” said Taryn Barrett, 9, a third- grader. “It helps me meet people in other grades and talk to them.”

Dustin Bianco, a sixth-grader at Brentwood Middle School, has attended the program since he was in fourth grade. He returns as a middle-schooler with his third-grade brother, Tyler.

“I really just come for fun,” Bianco said. “I like talking to everybody.”

The students also like that they get to draw their own creations during the after-school program.

“You can express yourself through art,” Maddie said.

But it's the friendships made that are the most important.

“Friends are therapy,” Maddie said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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