Discovery and Reconnection at Wheatley’s JOYful Paint and Sip Night

A thunderstorm with lightning. A handprint on a red background. A blue and red alien.

These were just some of the creations students and families made at Wheatley Education Campus’ “Paint and Sip Night” for families this past winter. Wheatley EC, a PreK-3 through grade 8 campus in Northeast Washington, DC, hosted the Paint and Sip event as part of Flamboyan Foundation’s Back to School with JOY initiative– a $125,000 investment in DC’s public schools and community-based organizations. During the 2021-2022 school year, Back to School with JOY grants supported more than 40 schools and organizations in reconnecting with families, building relationships, and creating welcoming environments for their communities during the first full year of in-person learning since the onset of Covid-19.

At Wheatley, families appreciated the opportunity to exercise their creative muscles, and to connect with teachers and one another away from the screens that have become such a big part of their children’s lives the past few years. As they entered the gym for the Paint and Sip Night, Ms. Johnson, the school’s art teacher, handed out plastic crates with paint pots, small canvases, brushes, and spill-proof cups for rinsing between colors. She also provided the “sip” portion of the event – cans of flavored sparkling water.

Some families included multiple generations of Wheatley students and former students, like Angela, whose children and grandchildren attended Wheatley.

“I’ve never done this before!” crowed Angela’s granddaughter, a Pre-K student and first-time painter, who was attending along with her aunt Shavonne and siblings. Her aunt helped her trace black lines across her canvas, and she filled them in with bright colors – red, yellow, and green.

Angela’s family tries to attend events at Wheatley, whenever they are able, to support the school. The family had recently been sick with COVID, though they are now recovered. “We are getting through it the best we can,” Angela said. “It’s something really nice for the children, something to get them outside the house and away from the computer.”

Ms. Johnson shared a screen of inspirational designs paying homage to Black History Month, but a lot of students went their own way.

“I’m not telling you what I’m making. It’s a secret,” said Antonio, a Kindergartener at Wheatley, when asked about his artwork. It’s his first semester physically at school this year, because his family chose to wait to enroll him in person until he and his brother Momo could get vaccinated.

Antonio also shared his favorite part of in-person school: art class. He compared notes with the others at his table about the way the color of the water changed with each new color of paint – purple, then green, then eventually brown. (The secret artwork ended up being an alien.)

For Angela’s family, the event also felt like a time to explore and spend quality time together. “It’s been hard…This type of event feels like something we can come out and do, to connect as a family.”

Dr. Shenora Plenty, the principal of Wheatley EC, spoke to how fun and joyful events are part of meaningful engagement with families. “At Wheatley Education Campus, we view parents as partners and this grant allowed our scholars and caregivers to come together for some in-person FUN! We are eager to continue partnering with Flamboyan to create more joyful moments.”

For more on building strong relationships with families, including through community events, check out Flamboyan’s Beginning of the Year Relationship Building Toolkit!