January 30, 2013 - Nobody likes to be sick and trapped in a hospital for weeks or months on end.
Working on one of Kingsbury Country Day School’s fish mosaics are (from left) fifth-grader Luke Madorski and sixth-graders Zach Borgula, Danny Files and Alessandra Rollins. Photo by CJC. (click for larger version)
But it's got to be even worse for a child who would rather be running around outside or playing with friends.
That's why the students at Kingsbury Country Day School in Addison Township are using their artistic skills to cheer up and comfort the young patients at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit.
"Kingsbury's very big on doing community service," explained art teacher Amanda Van Klaveren.
The students have been busy creating two large tile mosaics depicting brightly-colored fish to adorn the hospital's "sea wall."
"It's literally a blue wall with a few clay sea animals on it. The rest of it is just bare," Van Klaveren said. "It doesn't have any glitz and glamor."
Colorful pieces of broken plates from a dollar store and glass beads were glued to a concrete base to form these exotic-looking, yet playful fish mosaics that can't help but make a person smile when viewed.
"Every student at Kingsbury has touched these," Van Klaveren said. "It was very important to me that everyone be involved."
She noted breaking all the plates was the "highlight" of the project for many students.
"The kids loved it."
Van Klaveren is hopeful these fish will bring the healing power of art to Children's Hospital.
"It's amazing how much little things like this actually help with the health and wellness of the kids in the hospital," she said.
Grace Serra, art advisor at Children's Hospital, agreed.
"We have a healing arts program because there have been clinical studies done that (show) art in hospitals play an important role," she said. "Patients that have art in their rooms heal faster. They use less pain medication. Their duration of stay is shorter. Especially in a pediatric hospital, having a healing environment is even more important because when children come to the hospital, they're nervous and they're frightened. Having artwork everywhere is a way to distract them and reduce their stress and anxiety."
Serra noted the "sea wall" is part of a hallway that's used as the hospital's night entrance.
"At night, when the front entrance is closed because visiting hours are over, kids who come to the emergency room have to go down this very long hallway and it's scary," she explained. "Having really fun, creative things all over is a way to reduce the stress level, distract them (and) make it a much nicer experience."
Kingsbury sixth-grader Zach Borgula knows from firsthand experience how art can help soothe patients.
"It was really calming seeing the murals on the wall (at the hospital)," said Borgula, who spent two weeks at Children's Hospital in April 2012, while doctors treated him for pancreatitis caused by a choledochal cyst. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas.
"It was kind of scary (being at the hospital) at first, but looking back at it, I kind of enjoyed it."
Van Klaveren has found the whole project to be very rewarding on a personal level.
"I'm just really excited to be able to do this," she said. "I used to work at a camp for hemophiliac children. A lot of those kids go to that hospital, so this is my way of giving back since I don't do that anymore."
"This about making a difference – bringing art into people's lives and brightening their day," Van Klaveren added. "Kids that are in the hospital can't leave. They're kind of stuck there."
In a situation like that, viewing and appreciating a piece of art can "give you a break from thinking about what you're going through."
But it isn't just art that Children's Hospital is receiving from Kingsbury, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
Earlier in the school year, the students conducted a month-long coin drive that raised well over $1,000 to purchase the materials necessary for them to make 83 fleece blankets for the hospital's young patients, according to first-grade teacher Andrea Bristol.
"We also did a pop (can) tab collection for Ronald McDonald House, which is located right next to Children's Hospital and serves the families there," she added. "We collected an entire garbage bag, two milk jugs and a 5-gallon bucket full of pop tabs. I would guess there was at least 30 pounds there."
The aluminum tabs are recycled for cash.
The school also conducted an art supply drive, so kids staying at the hospital will have plenty of things to keep them occupied such as crayons, markers, coloring books and art sets.
"When kids are admitted to the hospital, each one is given a Zip Lock bag with a project in it," Van Klaveren said.
"Just because they're sick doesn't mean they're not kids," Serra said. "The whole idea of making art is healing as well. When you're in the hospital and you're afraid, (creating art work) is like praying or meditating – it sort of centers you, reduces that stress and anxiety."
Children's Hospital is in constant need of art supplies for its patients.
"When you donate crayons or markers, it only goes to one child," Van Klaveren explained. "They obviously can't share (due to their various medical conditions). So, that's why their supplies are constantly being diminished."
Given that Kingsbury has a student body of approximately 80, Van Klaveren was "surprised" by how much these drives yielded and "thankful."
"I was extremely impressed by this small school that did a lot," Serra said.
Serra noted the healing arts program at Children's Hospital doesn't have "endowments or huge budgets."
"Our healing arts program is made possible through the community and so what Kingsbury is doing provides our patients with the experience of having a beautiful healing environment and the resources to make art while they're here," she said. "It really is a tribute to our community that we have this program."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.