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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — DODDS-Okinawa schools are adding a local touch to their art programs.

The Artists in Residence Program has brought a wide range of local artists to Okinawa schools over the years, with the students making Shi Shi dogs, woodblock prints, tiles, kites and other local crafts, said Patricia Reilly, an art teacher at Stearley Heights Elementary School on Kadena Air Base.

“We are bringing in two artists this year, one in the fall for the younger students and one later in the year for older students,” Reilly said, according to a DODDS-Okinawa release.

“This program enhances our regular activities. It exposes children to different art forms and gives them an ongoing program they can look forward to.”

It’s a way to combine developing art skills with lessons about the local culture, said Henry Meyer, DODDS-Okinawa spokesman.

In May, for example, students at Stearley Heights learned how to make the ubiquitous Shi Shi dogs, the clay figures also known as “lion dogs” that perch atop roofs and entrances to many Okinawa homes and businesses to ward off evil spirits and invite good luck.

This fall, Stearley Heights students are learning to make kites, Reilly said. As a lead-in to the hands-on portion of the project, they’re studying the history of kites.

“This is an excellent opportunity to add to the variety of experiences that our students are exposed to while they are on Okinawa,” Reilly said. “I’m always looking for new and different artists for this program.”

She said she gets a lot of help from Okinawans who work at the school. “I find that these artists don’t need a lot of English language skills,” Reilly said.

“Art seems to be a universal language and the visitors don’t have any trouble communicating.

“Our small class sizes also make the program easier to manage and more engaging for the students,” she said.

“The next time you are at your local elementary school, go by the art room and check out the interesting and varied work being done by the students,” Meyer said.

“You might learn something new about Okinawa at the same time.”

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