New Colfax Elementary art room full of possibility

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — Maybe you’ve had the experience yourself.

You moved from a small house into a much larger one — and suddenly, possibilities you had never even thought of can now become reality.

Stephanie Ulcej, the elementary art teacher at Colfax, is in such a position.

This fall, Ulcej will be teaching her very first classes in her brand new art classroom at Colfax Elementary.

[emember_protected] The new classroom is part of the addition built onto Colfax Elementary this summer as a portion of the $7.2 million referendum approved by voters in the school district last November.

To help Ulcej with the new possibilities for the elementary art program, the employees at Bremer Bank in Colfax donated $320 collected during Jeans for a Cause.

Each quarter during the year, Colfax Bremer employees select a cause, and then during the quarter, employees donate $5 for the privilege of wearing jeans to work on Friday.

The employees selected the art program at Colfax Elementary for one quarter this year, and the Music and Memory program at the Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center was selected for another quarter.

Checks were presented to Ulcej and to Tony Xiong, an activity aide at Colfax Health and Rehab, on Friday, September 1.

The Jeans for a Cause money Ulcej received will go for incidental art supplies.

Art program

Ulcej says she wants people to understand the Colfax school district is supportive of the art program, and she not in any way implying the school district has not been adequately funding the art program.

The $320 donation to the Colfax Elementary art program is particularly welcome, however, because it will provide funding for those incidental art supplies Ulcej did not ask for in her budget since she did not anticipate needing them.

After all, it’s not every year a teacher moves from a “temporary” classroom where she has been teaching for 15 years to a brand new classroom with about three times the square footage.

Suddenly, Ulcej has found she has room to do certain activities she never considered before because she simply never had the opportunity.

“The room has so many possibilities. I did not anticipate the possibilities. Things are just popping up. I’d love a big, round rug. I have room for a computer art station. I have more room where I can offer all these things I did not order ahead of time,” she said.

The big, round rug will provide an area where students can sit and share their art.

Creating art is important, but sharing your art with others is equally as important, Ulcej said.

“I’ve been scrounging around, and I found some easels. I did not have room for those in my old room,” she said.

“I discover new things about that room every day,” Ulcej said.

Art nook

One feature of the new classroom is a bow window.

“I love the bow window. That’s our still life and sharing area. It has a spotlight we can use to highlight things we want to observe and draw. And that can be set up all the time. It’s also our gallery so it can be set up so we can display our work and share it and talk about it and reflect on it. That’s important,” Ulcej said.

The round rug would go by the art nook in front of the bow window, she noted.

“The kids can place their work in our little gallery area. Maybe I can get another sculpture stand or two to put in the gallery. An iPad would be nice. We have really good aps for art,” Ulcej said.

On the morning that Ulcej came to Bremer Bank to receive the check from Jeans for a Cause, she discovered something else important about her new classroom.

“I realized they can draw self-portraits in the bathroom! I always wanted to put a mirror in my old room, but I didn’t have the space,” she said.

Inspiration station

The additional space in the Colfax Elementary art room will create other opportunities, too.

“I can leave out materials and instructions so it can be accessible to the students, so they can have a lot of choice in the art room. So they can focus on their own ideas. If the materials are available, and the sources of inspiration are available, then they are more likely to do it,” Ulcej said.

“I also have room for an inspiration station. And I’m looking for stuff to put in it. Right now, it’s books. I would like to buy some more art books. I would like to buy some more art prints,” she said.

In the previous “temporary” art room, “we were cozy. We got to know each other very well … but now all of the kids will have more privacy to focus on their work,” she said.

Ulcej has room for other “stations” as well, such a drawing station, a clay station and a collage station.

“I would like to set up a station, too, so they can photograph their own work and put it into an electronic portfolio,” she said.

“People have said to me, ‘you’ll have so much space, you won’t know what to do with it. And I say, ‘yes, I do! I do know what to do with it!’” Ulcej said.

Music and Memory

The $300 donated by Bremer employees through Jeans for a Cause for Music and Memory at Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center also is greatly appreciated.

CHRC implemented Music and Memory several years ago.

The basic premise of Music and Memory is that residents in elder care facilities are given iPods loaded with personalized play lists of music.

In addition to formal neuroscience research that confirms the connection between music and memory, a wide range of anecdotal evidence from many different elder care facilities shows the iPods do make a difference in the lives of residents.

The Music and Memory website is full of such stories about elderly residents, who, through music, develop an improved connection with their surroundings and with the people around them. The music helps residents to communicate better, to be more animated, to experience less agitation — and in some cases, to feel less pain.

The Music and Memory program at CHRC is “going great. We are implementing more technology, such as iPods, and more music in a variety of genres. The residents love it,” Xiong said.

The $300 from Jeans for a Cause will help even more residents enjoy music, he said. [/emember_protected]