By: Jen Russon
On Thursday evenings, the Coral Springs Museum of Art dims its lights early, but the classroom at the back of the gallery is a bright hub of activity.
Teachers from Broward, West Palm and as far out as Miami-Dade attend the weekly Art for Educators Program, a free resource led by certified art therapist, Virginia Erdie.
Before sessions begin at 5 p.m., Erdie asks the teachers to participate in a meditative exercise she calls “willing hands”. “Open up your palms and breathe in for four seconds and out for four,” she said. After that she went around the table, asking the teachers to introduce themselves.
A math teacher at Pines Middle School, Helen Chisholm said she tries to attend every week. “I think we all need to get away; lose ourselves in the undefined sometimes.”
Last week, the therapy session offered by Erdie and organized by Programs and Education Manager, Brittany Curtis focused on meditative landscapes. The following Thursday, they plan to make decorative boxes.
In this class, teachers were instructed to fill in mountains, oceans and trees, with their own color schemes, and imaginative add-ins. Erdie said this could be anything, including themselves.
A media specialist from Lakeside Elementary drew herself lying in a hammock. For two middle school teachers from Hollywood, magic carpets came to mind.
As Erdie walked by the works in progress, she gave her professional interpretation of what the artist could be feeling. “You’re doing what you need to do here. This is your chance to disappear into a world of your own design.”
Erdie, who has a design boutique in North Miami and graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago, said it is always gratifying to work with educators.
Brittany Curtis, Program Director and brainchild of the Healing through Art series that began after the Parkland shooting in February, said that Art for Educators is the most well-attended of the museum’s therapy programs.
“The Museum offers three art therapy programs: Art for Warriors, Healing with Art, and Art for Educators. Art for Educators has yielded the biggest interest so far, and the Museum plans to keep expanding these programs to many more within the community,” said Curtis.
It made sense for Kathryn McCullough, a second grade teacher at Parkside Elementary to regularly come for art therapy.
“I taught Nicholas Dworet, one of the seventeen killed at Douglas,” McCullough said. “This art therapy has been very healing for me. It’s giving me ideas for my next classroom theme, ‘planting seeds of kindness’.”
For over an hour, the teachers colored and chatted with one another.
Derrick Dixon, an art teacher at Piper High School said he believes the popularity of Art for Educators is due to how necessary it is. “We teachers are so focused on taking care of our kids that we forget to take care of ourselves. Art therapy lets us all slow down for a minute. It’s self-care.”
The Coral Springs Museum of Art, with support from Southwest Florida Community Foundation, Margaret Garrison and Mary and Alex Mackenzie Community Impact Fund, plan to offer Art for Educators through June 13, 2019.
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.