Though Jessica Barthle is relatively new to the classroom, she has come to understand a lot about her art students during her past two years at Rickards High School. Most of that knowledge has been acquired in the last few months as a result of the pandemic.
Like everyone else, students at Rickards have struggled to adjust to the new normal. Many of them and their families face additional hurdles that make current circumstances even more challenging, from worries as acute as housing and food insecurity to a simple lack of access to art materials.
Prior to the pandemic, on a fairly regular basis, many of Barthle’s students let her know they didn't have supplies at home. She’d lend them materials on a case-by-case basis but, once schools shut down, that was no longer possible. Knowing her students needed a creative outlet, Barthle decided to equip them all with the tools they’d need to express themselves while sheltering at home.
“I had zero dollars left in my budget,” she said but that didn’t deter her. “I desperately took to Facebook and asked people to buy stuff from an Amazon wish list I had created. I honestly didn't think we were going to be able to get everything, but at the last minute this really wonderful woman offered to buy everything I was missing. I cried. I cried a lot,” Barthle admitted.
Due to the generosity of that angel investor and other community members, Barthle collected nearly $800 in materials, which allowed her to create 150 individual art supply packets to distribute as gifts for her students to keep. With her boyfriend’s help, she organized all of her students’ addresses to establish a delivery route. “Over the course of about two weeks, we saw almost all of Leon County making these deliveries.”
“Those kids and those parents glowed when I showed up, out of nowhere, with a bag full of goodies for them. They missed school, community and having a place where they know they're loved and cared for outside of home. I can't begin to say how much self-control it took to socially distance and not smother hug all of them.”
With deliveries made, students dug into the activities Barthle designed for them. The first lesson, titled “A memorial to my past life,” explored the work of contemporary American artist Andy Goldsworthy and challenged students to think about ephemeral artwork. After reflecting on what they’ve lost as a result of the virus, students produced an ephemeral shrine to honor that loss.
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