(Pictured above L-R: Sule Program Officer Jordan J. Klette-Cusher, CEO V. Ruth Klette, Art Teacher Ms Alena Cody, YWA Program Coordinator Ms Paula Goodloe, Ms Sarah Krueger, Educational Aide)
Once the dream of bringing an Art class to Dohn’s Young Women’s Academy was realized, (thanks to the generous grant from the Elsa Sule Foundation) it was time to get started.
The first item of business was finding an Art Teacher.
YWA Program Coordinator, Ms. Paula Goodloe, knew she was looking for someone special, someone who cared as deeply as she did about seeing a positive change in the lives of her students. With Art, it is crucial that teens are given the opportunity to express themselves using their inherent creativity. Self-expression through art is proven to relieve stress and significantly decrease anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and aggression. Because self-expression usually involves some element of vulnerability, the Art Teacher must be someone who not only motivates and inspires the students, but also someone who wholeheartedly earns their trust.
After interviewing more than a half dozen candidates, Ms. Goodloe met Alena Cody, a local artist with experience in education. Ms. Cody had enormous enthusiasm, cared deeply about the demographic served by Dohn, and had ideas on how to stretch the Art Program to get the girls involved with the community. There was no doubt that Ms. Cody was the right choice.
When Ms. Cody first began teaching Art at Dohn, she found her students justifiably cautious. Few adults had ever asked them about how they truly felt, what mattered to them, what their hopes and fears were.
Art is subjective. There aren’t any ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, only the willingness to be open, work together, and have fun. For one of their first assignments, the students were able to choose their own medium and colors, and then draw/paint a self-portrait based on their feelings. Overwhelmingly, many of the girls chose dark colors and filled the entire art paper with harsh strokes, leaving little room for light. Ms. Cody stood by without judgement, only acceptance. She encouraged the students to think about what possibilities lie ahead with the choices they could make with their project. Slowly, the pages began to fill with more colors, shapes, and vibrancy.
Students began to help each other with the new techniques they were learning from Ms. Cody. That level of reaching out and sharing had been rare between them prior to this class. Cooperation and collaboration led to more moments of learning and self-awareness. The art room became a safe place for discovery, security, personal growth and making new friendships. Art class had become the highlight of their day!
Stay tuned for a one-on-one with Ms. Alena Cody, YWA Art Teacher, to learn more about her experiences and observations working with the young women at Dohn.