CAPE Classrooms: Washington High School Parents Get an Art Show of Their Own

 In Joseph Spilberg, Michelle Green Arnson, The CAPE Blog

CAPE Classrooms is our series highlighting great work from our programs across Chicago.

This year, as part of our Supporting Communities through Arts Learning Environments (SCALE) program, a group of parents at George Washington High School have been coming together weekly to create visual art and learn computer literacy skills. The group is led by GWHS Attendance Coordinator Palmira Perez, Attendance Assistant Estela Giron, and long-time CAPE teaching artists Ellen Tritschler and Jessica Mueller. This class is part of a larger vision that the school’s principal, Kevin Gallick, has for GWHS as a cultural hub for the community and is an example for how CAPE partners with schools to contribute to community empowerment. With CAPE’s support, GWHS teachers have been recruiting students and parents from the school and the community surrounding the school (including parents of children who attend elementary schools in the area) to be a part of the SCALE program and build community through art making.

We support parent programs at all of our SCALE schools in an effort to build deeper understanding among parents about the value of the arts as tools for self expression, problem solving, collaboration, and learning, both for themselves and for their school-age children. Additionally, these programs help parents feel more engaged and welcome in their school communities.


The Washington High parent class started in the Fall with a holiday card project where the parents first learned to use Chromebooks to research images on Google and Pinterest. They then learned how to download and save images to their computers and flash drives. Next, the CAPE teaching artists taught the parents how to create prints of their downloaded images using tracing paper, linoleum blocks, and linoleum cutters. The parents sent the holiday cards to their friends and family. After completing holiday block print cards project, the parents had a in-class potluck celebration. At their party, the brought different foods many of which were family recipes passed on from earlier generations. Through conversations about the food that everyone brought to the potluck, the idea of food/memory painting project took root.

When the group reconvened after winter break, Ellen and Jessica began teaching them painting skills and facilitating discussions about the powerful role food can play in memories of our past. Each parent described foods that had a special meaning to them and then they began to create a collection of beautiful paintings.

As the parents’ paintings began to take shape, Alderwoman Susan Sadlowski Garza of the 10th Ward (above, standing right) stopped in for a visit. She’d heard about the group from a participating parent who also works in Garza’s office, and she came by to learn more about the program and the parents.

Alderwoman Sadlowski Garza was so impressed by the parents’ work and dedication that she helped to secure a location for an exhibition of the food paintings at Under the Bridge Art Studio, and she even sponsored refreshments for the event! Above, visitors examine the artwork.

Maricela Estrada, Tamales y Champurrado/ Tamales and Champurrado, 2016

“The best memories I have as a child always started in my abuelita’s (grandma’s) kitchen in Totatiche, Mexico. We lived in the city of Guadalajara and every year in the summer, we would visit my abuelitos (grandparents) at their rancho (farm). Making tamales was a family endeavor that would bring all of us together to cook, laugh and hear fascinating real life stories about my aunts and uncles’ adventures with the wild life in the potreros (paddocks). My grandma was the chef instructing everyone on what to do. I started as a corn leaf sorter, and then eventually graduated to actually mixing the masa (dough). The champurrado was always a must to accompany the tamales. After all the hard work was done and we waited for the tamales to cook, I would go out to the patio and gather some fragrant flowers from my abuelita’s beautiful garden to decorate the table. Soon my grandma’s kitchen would be saturated with the spicy scent of the tamales and the champurrado would simmer with the sweet aroma of chocolate and cinnamon, as we anxiously waited. That is a tradition that was continued in my mother’s kitchen, and that I have tried to keep alive with my own children. It is through our traditions that gratitude for what our heritage and our families have brought into our lives is expressed.” – Maricela Estrada

The exhibition was a hit! Many members of the Washington High community came out to see the artwork and learn about the SCALE program, including Alderwoman Sadlowski Garza and Principal Gallick from GWHS, as well as parents, children and grandchildren of the participants. It was wonderful to have so many people join us to support these dedicated, talented parents!

These parents and their peer groups at Telpochcalli Elementary, Waters Elementary, and North-Grand High School will continue to create art and build new skills for the rest of this school year plus the next three, thanks to the Illinois State Board of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program, funded by the US Department of Education. We can’t wait to see what else they create together!

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