West Chicago’s Wegner Elementary School, Celebrates art, ecology and soup cans

Sometimes a soup can is more than just a soup can.

Sometimes it can be an animal. Sometimes it can be a monster.

Ask Lisa Miller and she’ll tell you sometimes it can be just about anything you want it to be.

An art teacher at West Chicago’s Wegner Elementary School, Miller will demonstrate that Thursday night at the school’s Family Earth Night, an evening that celebrates art, literature and the environment by bringing kids, parents and faculty members together for a party where creativity is king and almost anything is possible.

“It gets our families together,” Miller says, “and it brings creativity and imagination together.”

Now in her third year as a teacher at Wegner, and her 12th in the profession, Miller says the family night is one of her favorite events because it gives kids a chance to try their hand at making all sorts of things using mostly recycled products — old CDs, plastic bottles and even stuff from the bottom of the kitchen junk drawer.

And, oh yeah, from those old soup cans.

One of the coolest parts of the evening, she says, is when youngsters grab a can, some glue and a bunch of odds and ends and create one of those animals or monsters or whatever.

“I absolutely love all the creativity they can display,” she says. “The things the kids make are all so unique and they’re so proud of them.”

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It’s the kind of night when they can take old paper scraps, soak them in water, put them in a blender, add seeds and squeeze out the extra water to create a new sheet of paper that can be planted in mom’s flower bed.

It’s the kind of evening where Miller and other teachers can cut out hundreds of small paper hearts that the kids can color or paint or decoupage and then attach to a giant mural that will be displayed in Wegner to play off this year’s schoolwide theme of “Where Hearts and Minds Come Together.”

This is the second year Miller has overseen the extravaganza at Wegner — she successfully introduced the program at Turner School a few years back — and she expects it to attract more than 100 kids and their parents.

She says it’s the kind of event that reminds her why she enjoys her job.

Miller studied studio art in college and never gave much thought to teaching until she volunteered to help out with a park district art program. It was there she found her calling.

The classroom, she says, “is just the perfect place for me … I love to share art with the kids and see what they come up with, how they can solve problems and express themselves through art.”

The evening will include about eight stations set up in the school gym and maybe even a green screen where kids can get their pictures taken in front of projections of the ocean or rain forest.

The Earth Day theme is appropriate, she says, because the folks at Wegner make every effort to recycle and avoid waste. There will be posters on the walls reminding kids, for example, how much water they use when they leave the tap running while brushing their teeth and other fun facts.

“We’re hoping the students take that to heart,” she says. “It’s a night about creative thinking and exploring. It’s a night to speak up about taking care of our planet.”

But mostly it’s a night when kids can cast aside their inhibitions and try their hands at creating animals and monsters and murals.

And it’s a chance for them to learn that sometimes, in the hands of someone like Lisa Miller, a soup can is a lot more than a soup can.

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