Filling buckets one art class at a time

In an attempt to lift student’s spirits, teacher Nicolette Hernke created a first day of school activity in which art students created positive “fill a bucket” statements.


Lauren Ritz

The culmination of students’ work was a display in Mrs. Hernke’s classroom window.

On September seventh, Cannon Falls students arrived back at their high school for another nine months of learning. For some, it had been three months since they had set foot in the building. For others, it had been nearly a year and a half. Despite this, all students were expecting the same thing: that dreaded first day of classes – filled to the brim with rules, regulations, and syllabuses. However, CFHS art teacher Nicolette Hernke decided things would be a little different in her room. 

As this year’s art students settled into their seats, Hernke procured a rather odd item for most run-of-the-mill high school classrooms: a children’s book. Hernke described the reason for this obscure item: “When I was taking my master’s at the Colorado University of Colorado Springs, my reading professor read to us every day, and I thought it was really nice to let everything go, to just relax and listen to a story.” The book chosen for the first day of school at CFHS was “Have You Filled Your Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud. This book teaches everyone the importance of small acts of kindness by describing an imaginary bucket. Each person possesses one such bucket that holds their good feelings and happiness. Each act of kindness given helps to fill up somebody’s bucket. 

After the reading was finished, art students were turned loose with markers, colored pencils, watercolor paints, and paper. Each young artist was told to think of a “bucket filler” and write it down in whatever artistic fashion they desired. Hernke explained. “The biggest takeaway I wanted students to have was basically humanity, and being kind to one another, and that their actions affect other people.” For 10th grade art student Meagan Pederson, this project was very welcome: “I enjoyed getting to do a low-stress art activity on the first day of school. It [art class] was the last hour for me and it was nice to not go over a syllabus for a change.”

“I wanted students to commit to something. By having them hear the story, think about it, and physically write something down, I hoped that it would have an impact on them that would continue throughout the year.””

— Nicolette Hernke

The activity went phenomenally, with students of all grades and skill levels fabricating beautiful pieces of paper detailing potential positive actions such as “say thank you,” or “give someone a compliment” written on them. Each student created one or two bucket fillers; each one was unique. Hernke then took all of the completed papers and hung them up in her classroom’s display window so anyone who was walking by could see them. “It’s a great reminder to start off the year on a positive note,” Hernke commented. “We need to be kind to each other.”