More than 100 Missoula school kids got a lesson Monday morning in the power of art to heal and comfort the sick and hurting.
Now, it's their assignment to apply that lesson.
In groups of 15 to 20, the third-graders from Target Range and Hellgate elementary schools spent a few hours in the emergency wing of Community Medical Center, where pain and anguish and suffering are mitigated - not just with drugs and doctors, but with the art that graces the walls.
Beginning next month, the children's art will hang in the pediatric unit of Community's emergency wing, which is on the tail end of a nine-month remodel.
Monday's hospital tour was aimed at both informing and inspiring them.
"Today, they're going to see the continuum of what happens here," said emergency room physician Keri Thorn. "And hopefully, it will take away some of their fear."
The kids got the full experience of "the continuum of what happens here" - patients admitted with everything from bee stings to broken necks, in terrible pain or unconscious and transported by helicopters and ambulances.
They toured the physical therapy unit, where rehab manager Barry Olson told them about recovering mobility, strength and dexterity after accidents and illness cripple the body in ways big and small.
"A lot of time after you hurt yourself, you need to get back in shape to do all the things you do every day," Olson told them, introducing them to all the tools of physical therapy, from canes to neuromuscular stimulators (the latter zaps muscles, causing them to contract involuntarily, one boy learned as his fingers contorted).
With every new stop on their tour, the children watched with eyes wide open at the awe of getting a tour of ambulances, fire trucks and even Community's CareFlight helicopter.
But it wasn't all pretty. Cracked skulls, broken necks and bruised brains can occur without the use of a bicycle helmet; sometimes, adults and even children will try to sell pills that look like candy but can kill you.
Missoula County undercover drug officer Scott Newell exhibited a glass display of meth and mushrooms and marijuana, and the tools used to make and use them: needles and razors and spoons.
"See that?" he asked a group of 15 Target Range students, while pointing at a glass-enclosed baggie of crystal shards. "That's methamphetamine. ... When you put that in your body, it make you feel really hyper. Ever have too much sugar? It's like that, except way worse. And it can kill you."
After the morning tour, the children retreated to their schools, where they began work on art projects based on what they learned.
A dozen students - six from each school - will have their artwork chosen to be framed and exhibited in the pediatric unit starting in June.
What the students learned Monday will inform their creations.
"I wasn't sure what kind of art we were going to get from them," Dr. Thorn said, "so I thought we should show them what we do here first."
Target Range teacher Jennifer Bukovatz said many of her students pass by Community on their way to or from school every day, and have a lot of questions about what happens there.
"They see things happening here all the time, like the helicopter landing," she said. "So as soon as we told them they would see the fire trucks and ambulances, they were sold."
Hellgate Elementary teacher Renee Isono said one of her students who is struggling academically was illuminated by the experience.
"For her to experience this, I think it makes the scary thing more comfortable," she said. "If they ever have to come here, I know they won't be as afraid."
Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at email@example.com.