…so we created an Art Department

At the beginning of every school year my favorite thing happens, my husband/high school math teacher brings home the questionnaires from his students. These are usually filled with ridiculous answers that completely crack me up. I know me and how I was as a high school student, I can just imagine what I would have said in a questionnaire from my math teacher.

This year, instead of a huge public school, he teaches at a smaller charter school for students  5th grade through 12th. Incredible difference in environments for sure. Total student population for his new school I’m guessing is around 30 instead of the1500- 2000 student populations like the average public schools out here.

I eagerly grab this year’s stack of questionnaires sitting on our table and start reading. The difference is immediate. These answers feel sincere, not hard or sarcastic. Not a cuss word in sight. The voices are coming through.

The question standing out to me the most: “If you could create a new class what would it be?”

For some it was exercise/sports, for some it was computer gaming, but for more than just a few it was art. The answers varied but it all came back to the arts. Drawing, painting, free form, calligraphy, woodshop, they wanted ART.

Their words rang through to my soul.

Art saved me growing up and in school. Having the fun combo of an over active creative mind living in an unstable home, a pencil and a pad of paper was my escape.

My art classes were why I had any motivation to go to school at all. That and socializing were the reason I stood at the bus stop and endured.

By senior year high school I risked life and limb by dropping an AP English class and ignoring the expensive books my middle-income family had purchased for the “over the summer mandatory reading list”. I still say it really wasn’t my fault. Upon arriving to the first day of school I saw no art class on my schedule. There was only one Advanced Art class offered that year and I sure as hell wasn’t going to AP English instead. Nope. Art meant that much to me that I was willing to face those consequences at home and did…oh yes… I did. Trust me my dad was not happy.

I keep reading through this year’s questionnaires. I know I can give you guys the art you want and more. If given the chance…

Ideas are now flooding my brain. How on earth can I explain what all I am capable of teaching or to even explain what I have in my mind? I have years of art back ground in the rattle box of a brain.

I literally raise my hand and wave it at my husband saying “Pick me! Pick me! I got this! I can do the Art!”

Now mind you, I am married to the half of my brain that seldom works. He is a Marine and a math teacher with his masters. I need to write down what I am thinking if I have any hope of making  any sense to him at all and not the noise the cartoon “Peanuts” adults make.

We can create an Art Department. I will volunteer. This cuts through tons of red tape. I write up the basics and offer it. He loves the idea. Let’s throw it by the boss. He loves the idea too.

The second week of school, Wednesday, early afternoon half asleep on the couch, I get a text “Can you be here in an hour to present your Art Department idea to the kids?”

Adrenaline kicks in and I race around gathering up my notepad and the props I had planned on using. Not only have I come up with the idea of a department but I also have a first project ready just to see who really wants this.

I planned on using the Bee poster I created for the museum. Its bright and colorful with my own close up photographs of  local bees surrounding information in the center. I will give the students the same Bee coloring sheet I give out during my Saturday museum animal talks and tell them they have a week to do whatever with whatever they want.

I’m surprised at how nervous I am. I drove trains for the PHX Zoo giving 20- minute unscripted tours. I talk all day on Saturdays at the Museum.  All I seem to do is talk. This is Art.  It’s exciting. There should be no problem at all.

But there I stand, shaking, voice quivering. I am a pro so I take a sip of water but it almost hurts my chest to swallow. I can’t slow my breathing. I’m sweating but that’s in part to it being over 100 degrees outside and me racing my things inside with little time to spare. I try sitting as I speak but it makes it worse. I openly tell the kids I am truly surprised at this but bear with me.

They do.

I make it through my presentation more than self- conscious, my teacher/husband has been watching the whole thing and I’m positive it was less than impressive. When I finish, one of the girls comes over to me and tells me not to worry about it, that all of them have issues and laughs.

I go home having no idea if they will do anything with these bee coloring sheets or if they even want my weirdo self being their Art Director.

I insist on going back to school the next day to see what room I will be using and to get a better feel and to relax. On Thursdays, more than half the students don’t attend so it’s a quiet, easier day for those who are there. The room I am given is big and bright and clean. Carpet feels new, bathroom is large and nice. The room has two working refrigerators and a microwave. There is a huge empty desk and plenty of long and round tables to use. I am told any art supplies in the building I am free to move on over.

It was Christmas.

Everywhere I turned were markers and pencils and chalk and scissors and glue stick and crayons in big pretty bins here and there hidden on shelves just waiting to be sorted through. I had landed in free art heaven! There was no need to purchase anything! Just gather it all up and go create!

The few students that were there saw my extreme joy and before you know it I had a table full of kids coloring sheets I had torn from one of my coloring books from home and a helper or two sorting through colored pencils and markers. I learn right away that some of my artists have special needs that may or may not have been identified or diagnosed. Some have and it’s apparent. I will have to take all of this in consideration when I am offering projects and deadlines. My brain goes into overdrive.

Week three I arrive early on Tuesday having no idea if any of the students returned the Bee picture like they were told.

9 of them did.

The envelopes are sitting on the table in a neat stack. I want to cry I am so happy. The art is above and beyond what I had expected.IMG_1310.PNG My plan can go on! I hang their art on the wall. I move tables blocking anyone from getting to close. I create a gallery for our opening.IMG_1309.PNG

I am given only a half hour once a week on Tuesdays for Art Department meetings. I am hell bent to fill it with as much diverse learning as I can offer.

It’s lunch time, in they come, unsure as to what I have done with their pictures, what I have planned in general. I haven’t shown them much except a huge dose of crazy from me at this point so I’m surprised any of them forgo free personal lunch time to hang out with me.

I have written “Respect” in huge letters on the massive white board with the definition underneath. I want them to understand I respect their art and what that means.

I take them to our very own gallery to discuss their art, then we head to round tables for our next projects and ideas.

I am so inspired by the kids and their efforts, I go home and write up a little article I think the local papers would use. I send pictures and the article for approval to the school and get blessing to move forward.

Week four. We have an even larger group for the lunch time meeting. We have multiple projects in the works. I give them a demonstration to inspire them for the Nutrition Art requested  for the school’s kitchen. They are given their next challenge for the week, a race car inspired contest, “The Fast and The Furious” and I head home exhausted.

Half-awake from my nap I see the mail sitting on the end of the couch and reach for the paper. It’s a long shot that I made the deadline, it’s hardly a week later, but it’s worth the look. It’s not my title but it’s in there.IMG_1357

There is no way you can convince me something that magical isn’t happening over there.

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