SchoolArts Room

Milagros: Wishes for Our Community

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Sep 22, 2014

Communities are groups of people who live, work, and play together, sharing common beliefs and traditions.  Communities also help us define who we are and how we interact with others around us.



by Laurie Navarro And Ryan Krippendorf, from SchoolArts Magazine, October 2014
Through this lesson, third grade students created a unique symbol in the style of a milagro, to communicate a wish for his or her community.
Milagro means “miracle” in Spanish. Milagros are small folk charms that are usually made from metal. They are used as votive offerings in sites throughout Mexico, Latin America, and parts of Spain.  Milagros can be offered as prayers for help with a specific need, or left as a thanks or reminder of a need that has been met.


Envisioning and Extending Our Ideas


After reading the story “The Mystery Wind,” by Cheryl Ryan, students considered what problems the main character, Taba, saw and then the wishes she made for her community as a result. Then, as a class, students brainstormed a list of problems they knew about in the community and what we could do to fix them. Individually, students then brainstormed lists of wishes for the community in their visual journals. 
After sharing some of their initial ideas, students worked to revise their wishes to be worded in positive ways. For example, “no littering” became “a clean city” and “no guns” became “safety for my family.” This helped broaden the possibilities that students envisioned as they developed imagery for their milagros.  




After discussing examples of symbols and identifying what meanings and associations beyond the initial image that we see, each student sketched out different versions of the ideas for his or her symbol, based on a choice from the list of wishes in their visual journal. Students then revised their plans and pushed themselves to make a more sophisticated image by overlapping or juxtaposing two to three images from their sketches. The students impressed themselves with how much more interesting the ideas for their milagros became when they did this!




Creating the Milagros
At this point, students took the contour line drawings of the symbol for their milagros and traced them directly onto 5”x5” sheets of aluminum tooling foil.  When placed on a soft surface like a piece of felt or a notebook, lines, patterns, and other details can be raised and lowered as textures in tooling foil with a no. 2 pencil or a wooden stylus.  Students used this to their advantage to enhance areas that would benefit from having a texture other than flat, smooth metal, such as grass or the fur on an animal.  Finally, students used colored permanent markers to create color accents on their milagros. The final aluminum milagros were cut out and included as part of a multi-grade level ofrenda, or altar, for Día de los Muertos, however they could be created any time of the year.
 Critique and Assessment
Throughout this project, students continually returned to questions of why communities are important, how their milagros can be important to the community, and how their ideas and artwork was similar to other artists who have worked with the big idea of community.
As this happened early in the school year, this was also an opportunity to teach students about how to share their ideas with a partner and how to offer ideas small group critiques. Aligning with the grade level classroom teacher’s practice of “stars and wishes” for critique of writing projects, the students were excited to practice this by participating in small group critiques with three to four classmates, both during the planning process and just before the metal milagros were complete.  Based on the advice they were given in critique, they students wrote in their visual journals about what their next steps would be and they were given the time to improve upon their plans.
Laurie Navarro and Ryan Krippendorf are art teachers at Bruce Guadalupe Community School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.,