Forest Hills — It was a conversation between Northern Trails 5/6 school special education teacher Kate DeJong and sixth-grader Laney White that led to a school-wide art session, “Painting with Jeff.”
“Laney and I were going through the hallway, talking about what to do with our free time,” DeJong said. “We saw custodian Jeff (Chadderdon) in the hallway and asked him what he liked to do.”
Chadderton’s reply: “I told them I like to paint.”
So DeJong asked him if he would lead a painting session for students in her moderate cognitive impairment class. He agreed.
“The class was a huge hit with the students,” DeJong said, and Chadderdon has now led three painting sessions for her students. And that got her to thinking “that there were probably more students throughout the entire school who might enjoy the same opportunity.”
DeJong encouraged Chadderdon to share his interest in painting with more students, something Chadderdon has done through his own YouTube channel. Through some rearranging of his schedule and with a grant from the school’s PTO, Chadderdon has been offering painting lessons this year during the school’s lunch and recess period, usually from noon to 12:35 p.m. on Tuesdays for sixth-graders, and on Thursdays for fifth-graders.
Teachers select participants from interested students. Those selected go to the cafetera to get their lunch, then head to a multi-purpose room for the painting class. The paintings used for the class are designed to be completed in the time allotted, using the same paint, paper and brushes that the students have available to them, Chadderdon said.
A Break from Playground ‘Chaos’
“I really like it, because it gets you away from the chaos of the playground,” said sixth-grader Bhuvi Chauhan. “Sometimes there is just too much going on outside, and you want to take a step back.”
DeJong said the program has been a nice alternative to normal recess. It also brings students together from the different areas of the school, which includes both Spanish- and Chinese-immersion programs, as well as general and special education.
“I like painting and I haven’t been painting in a while, so I thought this would be fun to do,” said sixth-grader Leona Durr during a recent session.
Sixth-grader Cecilia King said she has found the sessions relaxing and an opportunity to get creative.
“That is really the whole focus, that the students can be as creative as they want to be,” Chadderdon said.
Chadderdon shares a sample painting and guides students in how to recreate it, or they can work on their own designs.
Sixth-grader Katelyn Winkel did a combination of both, following Chadderdon’s instructions for different techniques such as how to make trees, but selecting colors that were unusual such as bright blue and black.
“My sky is green and my clouds are orange,” Katelyn said, adding she just wanted her piece to be different. “My river is red, but don’t ask why. I am not really sure why.”
Laney showed off her piece to classmates’ “oohs” and “aahs.” One student compared her piece to the Northern Lights.
DeJong said she hopes the program can expand next year so other people could share their talents.
“I think the most important thing is that the students get to see the people in the school in a different light,” she said, “that the person is not just a custodian, not just a teacher, not just a principal, but they also have interests outside of this building as well.”
There were several famous artists who worked as custodians including American abstract expressionist artist Jackson Pollock and American folk art artist Henry Joseph Darger Jr with other artists serving in other positions as security guards, in the mailroom, and on the reception desks.