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Wellan 7th Graders Address Social, Environmental Issues Through Data-Driven Art

Middle School students are known for their interest in “big ideas” as well as their exploration of moral and ethical questions. At this developmental stage of adolescence, students begin to dive into issues that are important to them, use data-driven research to understand their complexity, and find their voices to speak out and make a difference.

With this in mind, Wellan’s Voyager students completed an important STEAM assignment with the following steps:

  • Identify a topic related to social or environmental sustainability that is important to you.

  • Research this topic and produce a relevant data set.

  • Create a visual representation of the data using a chart or graph.

  • Drawing inspiration from local artist and scientist Jill Pelto, incorporate your visual representation of data into an original artistic rendering and write an artist statement to accompany your artwork.

As students worked on their projects, they had the opportunity to “meet” Jill Pelto over Zoom. She shared her process for collecting data and using it to create environmental artwork, and the students were able to learn from her work and life path.

Local artist and scientist Jill Pelto presents her work to Voyager students through the Wellan Wired platform.

Students concluded their projects by presenting their own artwork and artist statements to peers, teachers, and parents over Zoom. Explore their topic choices, visuals, and excerpts from their artist statements below. Note that the topics are of a sensitive nature, and several refer to current issues and events that involve violence. As students grapple with news headlines in their daily lives that indicate threats to the existence of particular species, including humans, opportunities to investigate and discuss these issues in-depth help students both to process news emotionally and to find their agency as young citizens.

Voyager STEAM Project Showcase

Food Waste

Excerpt from Artist Statement:

Approximately 60 billion metric tonnes of food gets wasted or lost in the US yearly, compared to China's 17-18 million. China's population is almost quadruple that of the US (the US has a population of about 328 million, to China's 1.393 billion), but their food loss and waste are about 3,500 times less than that of the US. We can't do anything about food loss if we aren't in the communities that deal with food in those stages (transport, farming, processing, and packaging). However, we can control how much food we waste in our own homes, and that needs to be cut drastically.

In my art piece, the size of the apples shows how much food the region loses and wastes. The rotten part is the waste, and the red part is the loss. My artwork shows two other things as well: A) that we CAN cut our food waste significantly enough so that we could feed the hungry, for instance, I can take off North America's apple and replace it with a less wasteful apple because it's attached with Velcro, and B) that the world is connected through the canopy and that each apple plays a role. If one apple rots, the whole tree can start to rot.

The world needs to act on this issue. If we do, we can cut carbon emissions, feed the hungry, and have a much more “for the greater good” society.

Police Brutality

Excerpt from Artist Statement:

Police brutality in the US is particularly bad and majorly affects black communities who are unfairly targeted by the police. 99% of police who are involved with police brutality aren’t convicted.

In my art piece I have Colin Kaepernick kneeling and his hair is a pie chart of unarmed police killings in the US from 2013-2019 by race. I chose to put Colin Kaepernick in the art piece because he lost his career in football because he chose to stand up for what he believed in: equal treatment by the police. The other pie chart is the US population by race embedded in the US flag. There are tears in the American flag because the flag symbolizes “Liberty and Justice for All” / the tears represent the lack of equality in that promise. Also inside the tears are people holding up signs representing the ignorance of people who refuse to acknowledge this issue. Behind Colin Kaepernick is the last words of people who died because of police brutality. I chose these pie charts because it highlights the disproportionate impact of police brutality among the black/African American population. They represent only 12% of the US population compared to 63% White but represent 32% of all unarmed police brutality deaths. [Key: Red=White, Blue=Black, Green=Hispanic, Orange=Unknown race, Teal=Asian, Pacific islander]

Unfortunately, police brutality happens way too often in our society. This piece brings out awareness of an issue that not everyone has to deal with or even be aware that it is happening. I’m sure you all have heard of the most recent death due to police brutality, George Floyd. I hope this piece inspires you to be part of the change that needs to happen with this human rights issue.

Animal Testing

Excerpt from Artist Statement:

Today, animal cruelty is a huge issue in the world. This comes largely from the use of animals in product testing. Nations around the world all have vastly different standards about what animals can be used and how, but few countries have strict limitations on the number or types of animals that can be used. In 2018, the UK had the highest number of animals tested on in the European Union, with 3.6 million used overall.

I used the outline of my graph to represent the factories and cages the animals are confined to. I chose to make the contrast between the factory outline and the outside world stark, because the animals never get to live a life outside or see the sun. The watery marbled effect of the background is a metaphor for freedom and animals in the wild, whereas the factory is sharp, stiff, menacing, and cold.

Many people are trying to help conserve the environment and save animals from cruelty, but they buy products that use animal testing without even realizing it. The animals that are tested on are given a very poor quality of life, where many are kept in small cages or are bred an impossible number of times. Their lives are often cut short as the experiments are often deadly. There are many more ethical, more sustainable alternatives to live animal testing that could be implemented around the world. By purchasing as many cruelty-free products as you possibly can, you help eliminate the need for animal testing and can create a brighter future for our animals.


Excerpt from Artist Statement:

Did you know in 2019 there were 18,471 people that were homeless just in Massachusetts? Former veterans, people with an illness or a disability, and even families left on the streets are among the many people who don't get the support they need, and they have no choice but to remain homeless.

I am only a middle school student, but it's clear to me that anywhere you go in Boston, you will see people on the streets possibly with makeshift shelters, or just a couple of blankets. My piece of artwork draws its inspiration from the people I see in Boston. I drew a man sitting and holding a sign. The sign has a line graph of the number of people in Massachusetts that are homeless over the years. The sign also has the words “anything helps,” a message I see pretty often in Boston. I purposefully didn’t draw a real sidewalk under him to symbolize the lack of support homeless people have. It’s like he’s sitting on air. In addition, I drew a cup next to him that is half-filled with some coins and a dollar. This symbolizes that there are people that are willing to help out there, but there are also people that aren’t. In the background, I used blue and yellow because usually blue symbolizes something sad, and yellow symbolizes hope. So, even though this is a hard situation, there is still hope to fix it. Lastly, I used an actual piece of cardboard to make the sign so that it would stand out because most people I see in Boston that are homeless hold some sort of sign.

I hope this piece of art is a wake-up call to people who have not yet acknowledged this problem. We take a lot of things for granted, and many times we forget about the people that don’t have these privileges. Many homeless people cannot fix the situation they’re in by themselves, but we can help them. The numbers are pretty high, but we can still do a lot to help people like the man in the drawing. Maybe one day, homelessness will be a thing of the past.

Sea Level Rise

Excerpt from Artist Statement:

Sea level rise is destroying our planet. Because the ocean is rising, certain animals that live on coasts will have to adapt to different habitats. Many animals in the sea will have to adapt to different pressures. Sea level rise will also affect the size of storm surges.

My artwork depicts the issue because it shows how sea level rise is increasing over time. My artwork has some animals in the area showing how sea level rise is destroying their homes. I also show how sea level rise can make ocean related storms larger.

Graph Detail

Anyone else should care about this because no one wants to live in a flooded world with larger storms and a lot less animals. People should also care about later generations of people and how this will really affect them. Sea level rise has no upsides!

School Shootings

Excerpt from Artist Statement:

I chose to focus my piece of art on school shootings because this topic is on my mind a lot. Ever since the first Temple shooting we have had guards at my temple. Every time I go there I think “Where can I go if someone comes in with a gun?”

For my artwork I used bar graphs to show the number of deaths in school shootings. On the outside of the graphs I wrote protest slogans around the border of the bar graphs to show what people think about the matter. I did this because I think that it shows people things need to change or more lives will be lost too soon.

People should care about school shootings and gun violence in general because it is a part of life right now. People should care that in places that used to be safe people are getting shot and killed. It should matter that the lives of kids as young as seven are being taken at a place that is supposed to be safe and nurturing. This violence needs to stop now!


Learn more about Wellan’s philosophy on education for adolescents. Read More Than a “Tough Age”: The Potential for Happiness in Adolescence.

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