Students Illustrate Courage and Vulnerability

8th Annual Safety Art Contest

Winning Art

St. Louis Public Schools makes safety a priority, holding a collaborative district-wide art-based safety initiative for eight consecutive years. Entitled the Safety Art Contest, it focuses on bullying awareness and prevention; this year’s theme was “End Bullying and Begin Acts of Kindness.” The District submitted an application to the 2017 United Against Bullying Grant program to increase their reach and involve more art teachers and their respective students.

St. Louis was awarded an educational grant of $1,500 to help increase school participation and the number of winning artists. John Grapperhaus, Visual Art/Springboard Coordinator worked with the art teachers from 60 elementary, middle, and high schools, to strategize how best to present the contest to their 24,000 students. Each art teacher was given $50 to help promote the contest and continue education on bullying issues at their school. The funds could be used at their discretion for art supplies, flyer promotion, panel discussion, teacher and student assembly, etc. This year there were twelve winners, four from each grade level: K-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

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Encourage Narrative

Grapperhaus and the art teachers planned class discussions to encourage students to drive the content and the ideas, to present open-ended questions, move the conversation towards positive behaviors, address anger management strategies, and encourage narrative to a very complex problem. They brainstormed on how to provoke the students to share their experiences, tell their own story, their own perspective, on the theme. As Grapperhaus stated, “They [the students] don’t have to be an expert in anything, they are already an expert of their own story.”

Each art teacher brainstormed with their students prior to creating their posters. One teacher, Alveta Nelson, shared her students’ experience, “At Kennard CJA we approached the contest illustrations as an advertisement. The students chose to advertise the positive "Acts of Kindness". We looked at ads and thought that many times when an advertisement focuses on the negative aspects of another company or ad they inadvertently put the other company and its products in the viewer's mind. They did not want to promote bullying in any way so they focused their illustrations/ads on what they wanted others to buy into, which was "Acts of Kindness".”


Proud mother and brother of Sheabdi, fourth place winner in the k-5 category.

Pride and Positive Messages

As the entries show, the students showed courage in expressing their vulnerability and their point of view. The teachers chose the five best entries from each school and submitted them to the Board of Education Central Office for an Exhibition. These were voted on by the St. Louis Public School District (SLPS) community members and awards, including a $50 gift card for each winning artist, were presented at the Administrative Board Meeting. The families of the artists, teachers, community members, and school board members were present for the Ceremony. Entries came from all different walks of life including special education, disabilities, and refuge students from Syria, Iraq, Honduras, and the Congo, some who barely speak English. The families were so proud of their children, their displayed artwork, and amazed at the awards.

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” – Margaret J. Wheatley

Decrease in Bullying Incidents

This year saw an increase in entries focused on cyberbullying. Throughout SLPS, bullying incidents have been declining at the elementary school level, especially since the implementation of the bullying awareness art contest. Each year the participating schools continue to see a decrease in the incidence of bullying while increasing bullying awareness and prevention education. The goal of the Art Safety Contest is to create a collaborative, whole-school approach to the bullying art initiative in which the entire school can have a conversation on bullying and kindness.

We hope the story of St. Louis Public School’s Annual Art Contest inspires more schools to participate in an art contest on safety, bullying education, positive behaviors, and kindness. Thank you John for your kind comment, “Partners like yourself make a huge difference in our schools. Thank you so much for supporting our efforts to address this issue!” We thank all of SLPS for the ongoing work they do in their community for students' safety and success.

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Post by Teresa Lynne, Program Coordinator, United Against Bullying