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Local Teachers Expose Disabled Students to Art

Jackson and Kloppenberg
Leanna Jackson and Kevin Kloppenburg demonstrate the different ways to orient a piece of paper. (Photo Credit: Kevin Kloppenberg)

Two teachers at Central High School in Springfield teach an art class specifically for students with developmental disabilities. KSMU’s Samuel Crowe joined the class and reports on how art and creative expression affects both student and teacher.

[SOUND: students repeating vocab words]

It’s 8:10 in the morning, and for Kevin Kloppenburg and his students, art class has begun. But this class is unlike any other at Central High: it’s an art course for kids with developmental disabilities.

Kloppenburg and his co-teacher, Leanna Jackson, start off every class with new vocabulary words for the kids to learn--words that apply to the day’s project. Today the kids are learning a new word: “mix”. The lesson plan for today? Mixing primary colors to create secondary colors. Kloppenburg says this art class serves as a tool of self-expression for kids who may not otherwise have that chance.

“Many of my students are nonverbal because of their individual, unique needs. About half of them don’t speak at all. So when you can’t express yourself verbally, you have to find other ways to get your thoughts across, and this an excellent way for that to happen,” Kloppenburg said.

Kloppenburg earned a degree in elementary art education from Drury University, and soon thereafter took a job at an elementary school in Springfield. His first experience with special needs kids came when he was transferred to Delaware Elementary nine years ago. Five years later, he was reunited with many of those former students at Delaware when he took a job here at Central High. Upon arrival, he noticed one big problem.

“We here at Central have art on multiple levels, but we didn’t have anything for special needs kids. To me, that stood out as something that was desperately needed. I felt really uncomfortable working in a place that didn’t offer art for all of our kids,” Kloppenburg said.

Alongside Jackson, Kloppenburg approached the principal about an art class for kids with disabilities. Funding came through grants, the special education office, and even “Limeades for Learning,” a fundraiser sponsored by the fast food company Sonic. Since then, one semester out of the school year, kids with developmental disabilities are taught the basics of painting, drawing, and coloring. Jackson says the kids are thrilled to have people teach them art.

“They’re a fun bunch to teach because they’re so excited about art. One of the things as a high school teacher, a lot of the times you get kids who are tired of school, but these guys love to learn,” Jackson said.

[SOUND: eirik is excited!]

One of those excited kids is 10th grader Eirik Eaton. I asked Eirik what sort of projects he’s worked on so far.

“We started on Monday when we did the story of ‘The Very Busy Spider.’ So that was our first art project,” Eaton said.

[SOUND: Reading]

Today, Eirik and his classmates read a book called “Mouse Paint.” It’s about mice that mix colors, keeping with the theme of the day. So after the story, the kids took their pencils and drew cat paws. Some kids use grips on their pencils to help with their fine motor skills. Then the kids draw mice, and color them in white.

[SOUND: painting]

After the mice comes the background. Reds, blues and yellows are mixed to form hues of green and purple. Kloppenburg says the project turned out to be a success.

“Every single one of these kids today understood how to mix their colors from primary colors. Maybe the project, when you look at it, you go ‘Well that’s not a teenager level project’, well it’s meant for teenagers who have development issues with where they are in their growth,” Kloppenburg said.

[SOUND: water from faucet]

As the class winds down, it’s time for the kids to clean up. They rush over to the faucet to scrub their paint brushes, rinse off their hands and wipe down the tables. Jackson says the class is designed to teach these kids lessons that reach beyond the art classroom.

“We’re working on counting. We’re working on reading. We’re working on following directions. We’re working on staying on task, so that makes what we’re doing very powerful academically, because it’s more than just art,” Jackson said.

[SOUND: Mr. K]

Kloppenburg was recently voted by his peers to receive the Missouri High School Art Teacher of the Year award, but he credits much of that success to Jackson.

It’s their collaboration and hard work that ensures the creative potential of these special kids at Central High doesn’t go unnoticed.

For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.