For the past 12 weeks, more than a dozen middle schoolers kept on learning after the school day ended. They participate in Arts After School, a free program designed to give students a safe place to go after school and a chance to learn skills in music and art.

"It's resulted in some cool connections," said Jim Ostlund, who teaches guitar for Arts After School.

The students will display their progress at the Arts After School Showcase, which will begin at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 at Journey Mennonite Church, 201 E. Euclid St. in McPherson.

Attendees can view a gallery of the students' artwork and listen to a short concert.

"Their art will be displayed and they can have their parents, family members, friends and community come through and look at what they've been working on," Ostlund said.

Through the instruction of Mayuko Shono, students in the Arts After School drawing class learned about shading, vanishing points and scale.

"I love it. I love art," said student Rory Horton. "I used to draw stick figures and now I draw realistic dogs and eyes."

"The more you practice, you get better — just like sports," Shono said.

Shono said she was nervous about teaching middle school students as her prior experience had been working with college students.

"I brought some easier projects in the beginning, but I was surprised how much they could accomplish," Shono said. "When I was their age, I had never done this."

With each drawing project the students complete, progress is made.

"I'm actually impressed with how much they have improved. It'll be fun to see how much their drawing has changed from the beginning work and the final work. It's pretty amazing to see how capable they are," Shono said.

McPherson High School senior Halle Giddings volunteers her time and assists Shono in teaching the drawing class.

"I love it. It gets me ready for when I actually want to be an art teacher when I graduate college," Giddings said. "I get to, I guess, share my wisdom. It's awesome to see how much they have improved."

For their final project, Shono is letting her students choose whatever they want to draw, and many have chosen to create Christmas gifts.

"I'm just so excited by how many people will be influenced by their art. When they see their art, they will feel something," Shono said.

While not everyone may choose to use a pencil, Shono believes all human beings are artists.

"I do strongly believe God has given us these hands to use and share with people," Shono said. "I want people to see how a piece of paper can become beautiful art. It depends on our choices. If they choose to come here and do it, it gives the viewer a smile. It creates life."

The teachers and students are looking forward to sharing their creations at the showcase.

"We want the community to be aware of what's happening and that there is an opportunity for students to continue to grow in the gifts that they have, their creativity, whether it's music or art," Ostlund said.

Arts After School will offer band and painting classes during the spring semester. Ostlund said they eventually hope to add classes for students to learn dramatic arts, digital arts and culinary arts.

"We're hoping that other organizations will see the value of this and that they'll come alongside and get involved with it," Ostlund said.

For more information about Arts After School, visit https://jimo61.wixsite.com/macartsafterschool, email macartafterschool@gmail.com or call 620-615-2808.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.