When Anne Tucker said “all art requires courage,” she described the students in the art therapy program at Hull School.  All too frequently the children that come to Hull feel helpless and believe their futures are hopeless, but you would never know this walking through the doors at Hull, surrounded by the hope in colourful student artwork.

Hull School is a special education setting which provides educational, therapeutic and family support services for its residential clients, as well as day students at Hull’s main campus and at four community schools in Calgary. Hull’s art-focus is evident through the entire school, whether it’s the winding papier-mâché dragon streaming across the skylights, each section created by a different class and brought together in celebration of the Chinese new year; the array of tiles winding down the hallway; or the three dimensional artwork displayed in the library windows.

“The art therapy program was developed to offer students opportunities to express themselves creatively, in a visual format and as an addition to pure academic learning,” describes Carole Bondaroff, long time art teacher at Hull.  “Art provides a sense of belonging stimulates community and teamwork as the kids work around a communal table and are really part of something.”

“You can actually make something. It’s different than other classes,” says grade 5 student Dylan. “In art you can actually see what you’ve done – it’s fun.”

Most of Hull’s students struggle for completion in their lives, and art exposes them to power of completion.  “A student can announce their work is complete whenever they choose it to be. It is their choice and their decision. This is very powerful for them. Often, nothing else is ever finished in their challenged lives,” says Carole.

Based on aboriginal teachings, the Circle of Courage creates an atmosphere that puts students’ needs first through mastery, generosity, independence and belonging. Carole exemplifies this framework in her class.  Grade 5 student Austen smiles as he admires an old project on the wall project and notes, “Carol is nice and we get to display our artwork. This makes me feel really happy.” Carol feels strongly that art can build self esteem and ensures that everyone’s work is put up, displayed, honoured, and valued. The sense of accomplishment, achievement, and pride are evident in students like Austen. In fact, five student projects were submitted to the Glenbow Museum and will be on show as part of a family-themed exhibit.

Hull intentionally encourages the older students to mentor the younger ones in all areas of study. This teaches empathy, resiliency, patience, cooperation, and a sense of responsibility – all good skills the students will take forward in life. “Hull is trying to give these kids a stable place to learn to reintegrate back into the mainstream,” says Principal Kris Reinhardt.

Hull’s art therapy program is just one example of how Hull is truly helping kids and families achieve success in their lives.