Every year, South Shore Arts in Hammond hosts a three-week project based on the children’s book “The Polar Express”. First graders from every school in the city come to Substation 9 to craft train themed ornaments, listen to the story, and learn about art. They always hold a reception for the students and parents right before Christmas. December 12th was the 2015 Polar Express Reception.
Veronica Napoli taught some of the Polar Express art classes. Three days a week students from a different school would take a bus to Substation 9. They were invited to wear pajamas, like the kids in The Polar Express did when they rode the train. A pretend conductor punched the students’ tickets. Once at Substation 9, the book was read to them. Then teachers like Napoli and a few volunteers dressed as elves helped them turn a paper box into a Christmas ornament.
“Some of the schools don’t have art programs,” explained South Shore Arts Assistant Branch Manager Napoli, “So the kids get really excited. There are a lot of steps, like glue and cutting. That helps with their motor skills too. Some of these kids have never used scissors before.”
Nancy Machnikowski, who has worked for South Shore Arts since it was called the Northern Indiana Arts Association, said, “It’s important for [the children] to get out of the schools and see the building. Art is a way to express yourself. You don’t have to be the perfect painter, or the perfect sculptor.”
The day of the Polar Express Reception, Branch Manager Leona Jurincie personally handed out cookies and hot cocoa to the students and their families. The entire project is funded by the grants South Shore Arts receives from the City of Hammond and its Mayor.
Parents are grateful for what the art class gives their kids. Gus Magallanes, father of first grade twins, said, “Anything that has to do with Santa Claus and everyone getting together allows them to grow.”
“The kids love it,” said Jurincie. “They enjoy it. As long as they look forward to it, we will keep doing it.”