Imagine having the two coolest big sisters.

Then imagine they come to teach you about art — in your first-grade classroom.

How excited would you be?

For Laura Hacker’s first-grade class, it wouldn’t be hard to answer that question.

As soon as Katrina Kendall and Carli Carpenter walked into Hacker’s room, students gave them hug after hug.

“What will we learn about today?” they asked over and over.

Once the two high school seniors got a chance, Kendall answered the question.

“We’re learning about Vincent Van Gogh,” she said.

Near her, Carpenter held a large picture of a Van Gogh painting. The two said it was to show the kids the style and colors Van Gogh used in his paintings.

So Hacker’s students spent the hour learning about mixing colors, using brushes, creating perspective and the style of a famous artist from a cheerful pair of teenagers who love hugs. Well, really, how much better does life get?

Much better, actually, once Kendall plopped blobs of white, yellow, black, blue and green on a paper pallet.

Before the kids started painting, Carpenter engaged the students in the concept she tried to teach.

“This is Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night,’” she said, pointing to a picture of a spire with a village behind and a sky full of swirls of blue, yellow and white depicting a night sky.

“Do you guys see the swirls?” asked Carpenter. “What do you think that big swirl is? The wind?”

Once Kendall had passed out all the paint, Carpenter guided the students to think about the brush strokes and mixed colors.

“You guys have got a bunch of different colors because Van Gogh used a lot of different colors,” said Carpenter. “Use your brush and a little color to put swirls around.”

Then the magic started.

Hacker’s students played with colors, first dipping in yellow, making a swirl and then adding blue.

Some made a stark background then added light swirls on top.

Others followed the outline of Van Gogh’s painting.

As they worked, Carpenter and Kendall wandered the room exclaiming.

“That’s great! I love how you are mixing the colors! You guys are all like little Van Goghs!”

Hacker’s students beamed.

Research shows that art in classrooms can improve reading, writing and math skills. Other studies found that art, whether its music, drama or visual arts, improved “visual analysis skills,” learning from mistakes, how to be creative and how to make “critical judgments.”

And yet another study suggested art in the classroom improves “community cohesion.”

Art teacher George Conley said that’s what he’s shooting for. “The entire goal of the program is quite simple — PHS advanced art seniors connect with PES students while teaching them art. It’s like Big Brothers Big Sisters, but with an art component,” he said. “As we fine tune this program, I hope to expand the program to (Julia Randall Elementary) and possibly the community.”

After four weeks, “I love how the kids have so much fun,” said Carpenter.

She said she remembered how much she enjoyed having a “big” when she was in first grade. However, Payson Elementary School only has grades K-2.

As the two wrapped up the art lesson, the whole class swarmed the two in a group hug.

“What will we do next week?” they asked.

“It’s a surprise,” said Carpenter. “But you had fun today, right?”

“Yeah!” they said in one loud chorus of voices.

Coolest big sisters ever, wouldn’t you say?

Contact the reporter at

contact the reporter at: mnelson@payson.com

I cover education, families, courts, non-profits, environmental and investigative reporting

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