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A New Perspective of Thankfulness
By: Art Teacher Erica Spangler
Over spring break last year, my husband (John), daughter (Ellie) and I went to Kawete, Uganda. There we worked at CCLS-U, an elementary school that is supported and funded by their sister school here in Kirkwood, MO, where my husband is a seventh grade teacher. That trip was life-changing for the three of us in many ways. It impacted my husband and I both as teachers and parents; left its mark on my daughter’s heart who is now thinking of going into social justice as a career; and it grew our hearts for a community of beautiful children and teachers across the world who are more like us than we may think.
CCLS-U was a dream of a pediatrician, Dr. Kent Killian, and his music-teaching wife, Katie. He had visited Uganda on a medical mission trip and quickly fell in love with the people and the country. One of the things he noticed, however, is that people cannot get out of poverty without an education; and, it is hard to get an education if people are sick … and in poverty. The Killians have dedicated much of the past 10 years to helping empower hundreds of children and families through education and better health. Their passion has spread to all of those who have traveled with them and spent time at this wonderful school serving the village of Kawete.
Our team of 19 parents and teens had many tasks to complete over our 10-day trip. Working together and in smaller teams, we fixed up the chicken coops, built walls to divide the nursery school area, gave vaccinations to the entire school, visited with every child on behalf of their USA sponsors, painted two murals, taught the girls about women’s health, taught all of the students about the need for and proper way to wash hands, delivered goats to all of the graduates and their families, treated the members of the village for a variety of ailments in the school’s on-site clinic, built a 9-square in the air outdoor game, and spent time playing, visiting and loving on the 400 students and their teachers. Wow! That’s significant!
One of the highlights of my trip was introducing the students of CCLS-U to painting. Rossman sent me with watercolors, brushes and paper as a gift. I did not imagine that the children in Kawete would not have had a chance to use color in their art. They were amazed! First, I taught the preschoolers how to use watercolors by adding water to the paint. On paper, I made a squiggly line of each color in the pack. The students carefully copied what I did. Initially, I did not realize they would do just what I did as the teacher. Many did not experiment since that is not the culture in their education. Rather, they learn from and copy just what their teacher did. After that, I encouraged students to mix colors and see what they could do with the paints. The children loved it!
I also had the opportunity to paint a wings mural with the older students. It was inspired by our all-school wings mural from last year as well as the art of Kelsey Montague. My job was to complete a large mural in just five days in one of the classrooms at the school. The first day, we washed and painted the wall in the sevent grade classroom. Since it was so hot, the paint dried quickly and I was able to draw the mural with chalk that same day. However, I needed to get a feel for the space so I went into the classroom once it was empty to look at the wall and make small sketches of my idea. I was followed into the room by one boy. As I sketched, I offered him some markers and paper. He sketched beside me. Within minutes, a few more children joined. I didn’t have a lot of extra paper, but I had the Kelsey Montague coloring book. I tore pages out for them and had them share the markers. Soon the classroom was full of children happily coloring alongside me as I drew. When I was confident with my sketch, I began to draw it on the back wall of the classroom in chalk. All the while, the children colored, chatted and asked for more coloring pages. They were content to do so for two hours while I was drawing the mural. It was amazing and such a treat for all of us! That was a very special day!
The next day, I traced the chalk drawing in black paint with the help of many of the youth who came on the trip. Two seventh grade boys from CCLS-U also helped, as well as our bus driver. We took a break from painting in order to teach the girls about women’s health. I had been trained through Days for Girls as an Ambassador for Women’s Health. Through this program, I helped teach the older girls about their changing bodies, the importance of abstinence, cleanliness and the menstrual cycle. We provided reusable menstruation kits for them, teaching the girls how to use them. It was well worth the break from painting to be a part of this very important education.
That afternoon was another highlight of mine. I dotted each feather of the mural with the color of paint we would use to paint it the next day. Again, I had my posse of children who were enthralled with what I was creating in the seventh grade classroom. I showed them how to make orange by mixing yellow and red paint. It is a lesson we take for granted. Many children had never used paint and had no idea you could mix colors to create new colors. They were amazed! What fun to be a part of this discovery. (It reminds me of when I teach the color wheel to my first graders! They also mix their paints as they discover and create all of the colors from just red, blue and yellow! We all learn that, it’s just a matter of when we get the opportunity to do so!)
On Thursday it was finally time to paint the feathers. The fourth through seventh graders each took turns painting a feather or two. They absolutely loved being able to be a part of this project which was so new and different for them. It was on this day that I stepped back and just let them do it. I knew they could. It was so exciting for them to help, and they wanted to make it beautiful. So, I released control and realized this was their mural – not mine. What a gift to have that insight, step back and just enjoy children creating. I also realized that my “art room” in Kawete was so similar to my art room here at Rossman. Children love to learn, discover, take chances, have new opportunities, and just be. Their mural is beautiful and just needed a vision and a bit of guidance.
The final day of work on the mural was touch ups with black and a chance to take a picture of each student in front of the wings. Our last day at CCLS-U was a Saturday. The whole school was gathered and they thanked me for helping them create their wings mural. They all ran towards me — about 400 kids — and gave me a giant group hug. It was a moment I will never forget.
As I start this new school year, I start it with a new perspective of thankfulness. I will always have a special place for the children I taught in Uganda (I do intend to go back!). I will always have special memories of sharing this extraordinary trip with my husband and daughter. More importantly, I learned so much about humanity and children. We want to create! We want to have lives in color! Right now, and right here, we have more than we could ever need and hope for, and we have an opportunity for great education in this wonderful school we call Rossman. This education is empowering our children so that one day they, too, can help others around the world to experience a life in color like we get to enjoy each day.
As you begin the busy routines of school and after school activities, I hope you are able to step back and see the extraordinary children you have and enjoy those special gifts and talents they each possess. The best part of my job here is setting a vision, giving some guidance and stepping back to see them CREATE!
Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills. Request a free Rossman School brochure here.