HMK sttudents draw “plein air” style in the outdoors in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. [Photo courtesy / Bruce Hucko]

Helen M. Knight Elementary (HMK) has been working with a special plein art painting project called “Look Where We Live.” Third and fourth grade students have been traveling to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park to paint outside.

Two fourth grade classes attend each trip. The two classes are divided into three groups for instruction.

Sarah Hamingson, a pastel artist who is the 2013 National Park community artist teaches one of the groups. HMK art teacher Shannon Scherer teaches watercolor and “Art Coach” Bruce Hucko, HMK’s art teacher made available through the Beverly Taylor Sorenson grant, teaches acrylic.

The project is in collaboration with the Bates Wilson Legacy Fund and the National Park Service to create an exhibit of student art to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Canyonlands National Park.

“We will have an exhibit of this and additional work from other grades at the MARC in January and February of 2014,” Hucko said. “Our exhibit will be the lead event of the Canyonlands Anniversary.”

Part of the effort to take the children to Canyonlands was recognizing that many of the schoolchildren haven’t yet enjoyed the national park’s scenery.

During a survey it was found that no more than 30 percent of any HMK classroom had been to Canyonlands National Park; even though 70 percent or more of each classroom’s students families were involved directly or indirectly with national parks due to working in tourism.

“This project will help to correct that disconnect,” Hucko said.

The project also provides students with a “real-life, on-site” visual art experience that serves as a culminating lesson for series of lessons of art, science and social studies that have been taught in the classroom, Hucko said.

Each student is to complete a single plein-air painting of Canyonlands National Park that includes three landforms. The children will be quizzed on the names and descriptions of basic landforms. They will also write short personal essays about their experience.