A Life Remembered Helps Six Children Go Mad Over Art

Tribune July 2003
Bridgette Mongeon © 2003

The excitement on the children’s faces at the Mad Hatters Art Camp was enough to inspire any writer. The enthusiasm of the six special participants was especially delightful.

Nicholas Orozco, Chelsea Valles, Daniel Duron, Ever Reyes, Faith Pruneda, and Rosa Juarez, were all winners of the Ellen O’Neal Art Scholarship.

Each child, encouraged by Harvard Elementary’s art teacher Mr. Robertson, submitted art work in hopes of winning the competition, and the award of the $300 tuition for the two weeks at The Mad Hatters Arts Camp.

The Ellen O’Neal Art Scholarship was developed by Jazzercize instructor Jane Luco and attorney Beatrice Mladenka-Fowler. Both women are friends of Jo Ellen Snow the mother of Ellen O’ Neal. Ellen O Neal was a vivacious artist who attended kindergarten and first grade at Harvard Elementary. She was also a student of artist Naomi Smulian, an art teacher at Mad Hatters Art Camp, and one of the camps founders.

Ellen never did get the opportunity to attend Mad Hatters Art Camp; she lost her battle with a brain cancer while attending Harvard Elementary. Both Luco and Mladenka-Fowler felt it was important to contribute to Ellen’s memory and created the Ellen O’Neal Art Scholarship. Teachers at Harvard Elementary determine who is eligible. The scholarship is based on financial need, artistic talent, good citizenship and a commitment from the parents concerning transportation.

“I’m very, very proud,” states Snow, “I greatly appreciate anything that keeps Ellie’s memory alive, both at Harvard Elementary and in the community.”

This is the third year that the scholarships have been awarded. The first year two scholarships were awarded. The second year the scholarships grew to one child in each age category, kindergarten through fifth grade. Luco and Mladenk-Fowler raise the funds for the scholarship yearly. Luco said her dream would be to send a boy and girl in each grade, funds permitting.

I had a chance to visit the camp and talk to some of the scholarship winners. I was greatly impressed with the quality of the camp and the teachers. They were all professionals in their field, giving the highest quality of instruction. This year’s theme of Around the World with the Mad Hatter also added geography and further education into the mix. The children were each equipped with their passports that were stamped as they traveled with their instructors to such far away places as Barbados, China, Greece and Portugal.

I met with one of the winners, Daniel Duron, in art teacher Cindy De Hart’s class. Daniel was in the Australian room busily working on a paper sculpture while fiddling with his colorful smock. Daniel said the camp was pretty good “you get to go outside and play and I do art and rhythm and music and the drums.” His eyes twinkled as he said drums. I asked him if he knew who Ellen O’Neal was and how he felt about the scholarship “I felt happy when I won, Ellie was a girl who died and loved to paint. She was a great artist. I want to be a great artist like her too.”

I met with Ever Reyes in Greece at the theater class held by Robb Brunson. Ever was a bit older than Daniel and seemed to know why this scholarship came to be. “The girl’s favorite thing was drawing and they did this to remind everyone of her.” Ever was also very expressive when describing his work. “I worked on the art picture all day, I added wallpaper and colored with crayons and then I thought about doing something with dinosaurs, so I made them stripes, then the night sky not really a night sky” I could tell he was really into this painting.

I stopped into two other classes before the last, Rhythm and Movement with Kristie Kiser and Nature Studies by David Petersen. As I talked with each teacher I was impressed with their ability to woo the children into creativity and learning. “It is as much about team work, and critical thinking as it is movement. We are teaching the kids thinking skills, how to be choreographers”, states Kiser. In Mr. Peterson’s class I was enlightened to hear a run down of what they did that day, as the children lined up at the door and handed in their colored paper chameleons. “We looked for grasshoppers to feed the fire belly toad, we looked at the baby caterpillars, and also talked about how our nose has a memory, and that my favorite smell was dill because it reminded me of my grandmothers farm. We also got to look at the butterfly wing under the microscope and name our snails.” I was beginning to wish I had arrived in this class a bit early to take part in some of the adventure and quickly ran to look at the butterfly before running to my next class.

The last class I visited was Terrence Karn’s music room. I arrived before the children and marveled at the 18+ drums lined up in front of chairs, along with two plastic waterbottles, a Rubbermaid container and plastic planters each with their own set of drum sticks. The children didn’t miss a beat in Mr. Karn’s class. I could see why Daniel’s eyes twinkled when talking about Mr. Karn and the drums. Scholarship winner, Chelsea Valles, was enjoying the opportunity of echoing the teacher’s rhythm on a drum.

Even though I did not get to visit all the classes nor meet all the winners, when I left Mad Hatters I felt like I had been on an adventure, and I had only been there a few hours. It must be wonderful to be a kid and have two weeks of this creative experience. For all the participants I am sure it would be a memory that would last a lifetime, and for six special children a life of a little girl that would be remembered.

The Ellen O’Neal Art Scholarship is maintained by the Houston Independent School District. To make a donation please send a check made payable to HISD, and mail to Snow and Whitworth, Attorneys at Law, 1148 Heights Blvd, Houston, Texas 77008.

To receive information about next years Mad Hatters Art Camp contact Claire Smith administrator at 832-618-1120.

All written work is copyrighted and cannot be used, whole or impart,
without the written consent of the author.

Leave a Comment