Jacob Mann

Hi, my name is Jacob Mann. I cover the Art Beat for the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. Stories start in many different ways. This story is the continuation of my three-part series creating a community dialogue on art education and creativity’s role in our daily lives.

I was able to catch up with Mat-Su Central school nurse Wendy DeGraffenried, one of my favorite Valley brains to pick.

I met DeGraffenried when she received the 2018 Alaska School Nurse of Excellence award. She was working at Wasilla Middle School at the time, and she had developed her own after school mindfulness program called Brain Train.

Looking back, I’m glad to see I was able to maintain my objectivity and wrote the story like any other. But now I get to tell you firsthand, I think her innovative program that helped kids process their emotions through structured meditative practices is exactly the kind of thinking that should spread across the district.

Dealing with difficult emotions is a core principle driving trauma-informed schools and DeGraffenried is a pioneer on the frontier in the dawning era of trauma-informed schools. During our 2018 interview, she told me that creative and structured mindfulness allows kids to see their thoughts as they think them and feel their feelings as we feel them, helping them unlock their brain’s executive functioning.

While that particular program isn’t going in her current position at Mat-Su Central, she told me that she’s carried that train of thought over to her weekly efforts at the school during our recent phone interview.

“For me, if I can have colors in my world, I’m doing alright,” DeGraffenried said.

We talked about numerous subjects revolving around art education and the value of creativity. The main highlights from our conversation are cited below.

How important is creativity when it comes to overall education and how can we foster that?

“I think creativity allows us to approach any problem or hurdle or situation… The creative process allows us to find solutions or coping skills that help us get through those normal or difficult situations… I think creativity can be in any part of anyone’s life… But it can only make us better as human beings and collectively.”

Does it seem like creativity has the power to carry over into many aspects of our lives?

“Yeah, I think that we all can be creative. Some people say, I’m not creative, and I say but what do you love to do? And, creating is human-ness… I think creativity manifests differently for everyone but I do believe everyone is creative… Having some thought inside our head and manifesting it. That’s to me, the creative process.”

What are some ways we can nurture the next generation’s creativity and make the most of our situation?

“I always say find out what people like… and explore that. I think that’s super important for anyone because we all have different interests and not to limit those interests, but to explore them. Whether it’s a computer or an actual pad of paper… It can all creative.”

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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