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Student creativity glows while enhancing social skills in SECA class


Parent-teacher conferences at Shoemaker Elementary featured a unique experience this year. Families were welcomed into an underwater utopia as seaweed, jellyfish, and scuba divers lit up the room from floor to ceiling.


The display was the “Let Your Creativity Glow” SECA Art Show, which featured glow-in-the-dark artwork by Kindergarten through fifth grade students. Social Emotional Creative Arts (SECA) teachers Colette Sorensen and Rhonda Riha brought this project to life at Shoemaker.

Glow in the dark art.

The “Let Your Creativity Glow” project was a grant, which Sorensen wrote, that was funded through the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation. Sorensen, who is a retired elementary classroom teacher, said SECA blends her passion for art and helping students learn important social skills.


“On a typical SECA day, we’ll have a short lesson about emotions. It might be about respect or how to problem solve. Then after that we move into an art project,” Sorensen explained. “It has to do with [students] practicing the skill and getting to know how I feel and how I can express my feelings without causing trouble or feeling like I’m getting in trouble,” she said.


The student process of this project was much like any other SECA project. Riha said students worked through the struggle and the emotions as they gained confidence and solved problems.


“We went from ‘I can’t do this’, to ‘I’m going to try this out’ and, ‘Look what I just created!’,” Riha explained.

Glow in the dark art.

Fourth grader Andrew Pedersen echoed that sentiment.


“It was a little stressful before you knew what you were doing, but once you got more in depth you got used to it, you just did it and it didn’t take that much work,” Pedersen explained. “I’ve never done anything like this before, but it also let me express how much I liked art,” Pedersen said. “It was fun!”


Working with glow-in-the-dark materials is unique, and not an opportunity many students had previously. The Foundation’s support of the project was instrumental to students’ experiences and self expression. After students in SECA class finished their colorful projects, they were displayed for students and families to see at parent-teacher conferences.


“We have a lot of kids who are so passionate about art, and this was a way for that to be displayed for them so they could shine,” Riha stated. “I know that it was allowing them to let other people see what they were capable of doing,” she said.

Third grader Aria Escobar is a self-described artist. She said this was the first time she was able to use glow-in-the-dark art materials.

Glow in the dark paper crafts.

“I really liked the colors and how it glowed,” Escobar stated. “When the black lights were on and you walked in, if you were wearing neon colors, you glowed exactly like the room,” she said.


Escobar said SECA is her favorite class because she is able to express herself through art, while learning. Pedersen agreed, adding that he likes the lessons learned in SECA.


“We learn that everybody is different, and you don’t have to follow along. You just have to be yourself and show your creativity,” Pedersen said.


Riha and Sorensen explained that even though many of the students may only do art as a hobby in the future, every student will benefit from the life lessons learned in SECA class. 


“My favorite part of teaching SECA is watching the kids find out that they are okay,” Sorensen explained, “that ‘I am acceptable as I am, I’m not broken’.”

Glow in the dark art.

Riha said the social skills and lessons learned in SECA are preparing students for their future.


“That social emotional side,” Riha said, “that is what is going to get them through life to be able to go for their dreams and reach their goals.”