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Graphic design students create characters, curriculm for Essential 8

A project that started in 2019 as a way to extend lessons for advanced students has evolved into a district initiative led by the Viking Graphic Arts (VGA) to reimage and reimagine the Essential 8 (E8) curriculum. 

In February 2023, the VGA seniors decided they wanted to write children’s stories with characters created for E8, which is now expanding to have elementary school students write stories as VGA members focus on character development, merchandise, and how the curriculum will roll out to Bryan ISD students.

Senior Gaby Rodriguez has watched the E8 project evolve over the last few years as it has taken on a life of its own, hoping it will impact the next generation of BISD students.

“The original plan was to only create characters for the district to use, but once we started really thinking about it, we realized it wasn’t just a storybook,” Gaby said. “The characters are symbols for the E8 traits, and we hope the kids will connect to the traits if they connect to the characters.”

The VGA members realized that they had not been in elementary school in many years so they are looking to the Bryan ISD elementary students to write stories the characters they have created can star in.

“Having kids write the stories gives us more insight into what they would like to read,” Gaby said. “It’s good for our ambassadors to get more experience working with kids, helping out our community, and meeting them where they are.”

Knowing that students can apply the Essential 8 characteristics beyond the classroom motivates Gaby to keep working on the project to see it to completion.

“All the children should understand the E8 characteristics,” Gaby said. “These are characteristics they’ll use in the real world, and they need to be taught from a young age to use them, grow, and learn from them.”

So far, the VGA has designed water bottles, pins, and worksheets for teachers to use in classrooms, and the response has been positive.

“The students really did all the work,” Magouirk said. “We bounced it off the admin at Branch Elementary, and they were all enthusiastic about it, so we knew we had a big thing. The students have carried it over from year to year because they believe in it and want to see it succeed.”

Senior Styx Peck created all of the original characters to reflect each of the Essential 8’s characteristics while also reflecting diversity.

“My inspiration for the characters was mostly children’s cartoons and the way that all of the characters exhibit different characteristics and have particular roles,” Styx said. “I did a lot of googling what different animals symbolize and what cultures they come from to find a good cross-section of representation. My favorite is Totanka, a bison, because my grandmother’s family is Native American, and he’s sort of a gentle giant.”

Some students have been working on this project for several years. Such a massive undertaking in a high school environment requires seniors to trust underclassmen to continue working and pushing to completion. 

“Styx spent all summer working on these characters and developing everything, things like where they are from and what their names mean,” Magouirk said. “This year’s seniors have worked really hard, so I want them to see their project take off. The saddest day of my life was last year, watching Ducky tell the seniors that they wouldn’t be able to see it finished. Since then, we’ve made leaps and bounds of progress.”

Though junior Jordyn Washington believes the Essential 8 characteristics are important concepts, she also believes that the delivery can be enhanced to become more appealing to younger students.

“The project’s overall goal is to make learning the Essential 8 fun because, at this point, it’s dry,” Jordyn said. “The district has done the same thing for a long time, so if we can change the curriculum and make it more appealing to younger students, then teaching students later grades won’t be as hard.”

Students have given each step of the process much thought and consideration. When deciding on the school’s name in the imaginary world of the Essential 8, VGA members decided to name it Lester B. Banks Elementary School.

“We wanted to choose someone who was well-known locally, dedicated to education, and to the community,” Magouirk said. “Lester was the first person who came to mind. He was our first choice, and he loved it. The answer for the school’s name was obvious, and everybody loved it.”

Though the students have seen much success, working on something so big, which impacts the entire district, has created some issues when dealing with copyright. 

“The most difficult part has been the legal stuff,” Mehaly said. “It keeps us at a place where we can’t move. We’ve just been trying to make the time pass quickly by focusing on the drawings.”

Sophomore Addi Gourney originally joined the project to improve her graphic design and formatting skills, but she found that she also quickly formed friendships and expanded on the vision of the project by creating worksheets and volunteering a helping hand to the character drawings.

“My goal is to make each of the E8 characteristics clear using references from other schools and our personal lesson plans,” Addi said. “I want to make the drawings nice, fun, and cartoony so that the kids will want to engage with it.”

The entire project has been time-intensive as students focus on different tasks to ensure quality.

“The most difficult part of the process is that when we’re not developing the characters, there is a lot of organizing to do,” junior Rose Jones said. “It takes a lot out of a person, but being a part of the process means a lot to me, and I feel like I am actively doing something important.”

Though the ultimate goal of the Essential 8 project is to help students understand the characteristics and learn how to apply them, many of the students involved in creating the project have also learned important life skills.

“This project has taught me how to be a more effective leader in our club and helped our club members grow closer,” Mehaly said. “A lot of people have been inspired to achieve more when they leave high school since we’ve been working on this project and have seen that we can create something big.”

Though the club has accomplished a lot this year, underclassmen know that they will continue next year and will honor all club members who have graduated through their hard work and dedication to the project.

“I feel really good about it being carried on to next year, and I’m happy that our president, Gaby, has given me and the others the honor of continuing the project,” Jordyn said. “Working on this as a new student who just came to Bryan High this year has been a lot of fun. It has been a good bonding activity because there has been so much to do collaboratively.”

Working on this project has continued to help VGA members expand their skills beyond graphics and creativity.

“I’m really proud of everyone in my club; they’ve all done great,” Styx said. “Working as a team with them has definitely changed my perspective on working with a group. I usually work alone, so it’s been eye-opening to know that when I’m working with my team, I don’t need to worry about everything and can trust them to get things done.”

Magouirk said he is lucky to be a part of this project and to see his students succeed.

“This is every teacher’s dream,” Magouirk said. “Every teacher wants to have their kids go do great things. This is what the VGA club does; we create cool stuff for the school to use. It’s a proud papa moment for me, watching all these young people grow and kill it on these projects, doing way more than I could ever do.”

Styx will continue learning design skills and video game development at A&M’s VizLab next year, but working on this project will always be one of her most significant accomplishments.

“The project is definitely something I feel is bigger than me and will last much longer than me,” Styx said. “I am a senior, and I’m graduating this year, but this will last. Who knows how long it will last and have a huge impact on future students?”

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Ace Roueche
Ace Roueche, Associate Editor
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