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Art Teacher Helps Students See, Express Themselves

Art teacher Shawn Dejonge wants to know, “Who are you?”

On the first day of class, Wyoming Intermediate School students walked into the art room to the the sound of English rock band “The Who” singing its legendary question.

Dejonge soon helped students launch into a drawing project combining elements of their personalities and passions. They added symbols representing themselves, like bicycles, basketballs and symbols of faith, into an outline of a Wyoming Wolf, the district mascot.Student depiction of the Wyoming Wolf

Dejonge’s goal was to get them thinking right away about who they are as students, artists, family and community members. He gets the creative juices flowing in ways that have always worked for him, he said, through music and colorful art hanging from the walls and ceiling. Energy permeates the classroom.

Dejonge encourages students at Wyoming Intermediate School to look within, reflect on their likes and dislikes and consider their place in the community. Tapping into their personalities helps them create better art, he believes.

“Whenever you produce art, you want to get the kids to reflect on who they are. The best art you get is from the ideas you pull from inside,” said Dejonge.

Dejonge has taught in the district for 17 years including four years at the Intermediate School. He taught for two years at the district’s former alternative high school, 10 years at Oriole Park, Gladiola and Huntington Woods elementary schools. Before that, he taught in Hammond, Ind.

Encouraging Students to Look WithinA sixth-grade student works on his mask while art teacher Shawn Dejonge leads class

Dejonge was named the 2012-2013 Certified Staff Member of the Year by the district, and received the award for his methods in teaching students to create art as an expression of themselves, including their ethnicities, strengths, and hobbies.

Dean of Students Bobbie Bentley nominated Dejonge.

“Mr. Dejonge uses art as a way to connect cultures, traditions and customs. All students are allowed to express their ethnicity through their art with praise and honor. Mr. Dejonge encourages students to ‘add themselves’ to their work…pour their own thoughts, ideas, individuality and talents into their projects; making them personal,” she wrote to nominate Dejonge.

A graduate of Ottawa Hills High School, Taylor University and Central Michigan University, Dejonge works with many different media and lots of visuals to motivate students. While his specialty is drawing and painting, and he also loves clay and collage.Student depiction of the Wyoming Wolf

“Mr. DeJonge, is very inspiring,” said sixth-grade student Aliyah Brown, as she worked on creating a clay and papier mache’ mask. “He’s really active with us.”

In fifth-grade, Aliyah created a drawing of herself in Dejonge’s class that include “stuff from my childhood and life.”  She added sketches of cakes and a paintbrush, two of her favorite things.

Art Was, Is a Way to Shine

Dejonge said he’s always loved art because of what it meant to him personally. “Art from me was kind of like the difference between self-esteem and no self-esteem,” he said.

He struggled as a student in most subjects, but excelled in art class. “Art was almost survival as a kid,” he said. “Art was so important to me I wanted to make it great for other people.”

Sixth grader Gavin Henry is inspired. “He wants the best out of you. At first, I didn’t really like art but he taught us to be ourselves and express it.”

Finished clay masksBentley said by the school year’s end, student art lines every hallway.

“He spends countless hours after school matting and displaying student artwork throughout the building. It would take a few hours of your time just to walk through and see it all. Our hallways are a virtual museum exhibiting our students’ talents and Shawn’s dedication and work ethic, which are both endless,” she wrote in the nomination form.

Connect: Wyoming Public Schools

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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