For anyone who thinks that a school for blind youth wouldn’t need an arts program, many of its students will proudly teach you otherwise.
On Friday, for the third year in a row, Lavelle School for the Blind in the Bronx held its annual art show to display colorful works created by the students of art teacher Jessica Jones.
“I love doing art because it really relieves all the stress that you have, and it’s really creative,” student Ashley Morisseau. “It shows what my imagination can build up — and shows everybody I can do things.”
The 20-year-old’s art show piece was inspired by one of her favorite animated characters, Nickelodeon’s Henry Danger.
“I made it because the character is trying to teach kids that they can make a difference in the world, and if they’re too scared, they have to put on a brave face for everybody because if you’re scared you can’t do anything,” Morisseau said.
It’s that type of thinking that keeps Jones learning from her students “as much as they have learned from me.” She came to Lavelle School for the Blind 12 years ago, after losing her sight at age 37 due to diabetes complications while working at a Manattan public school.
“Perhaps I’m naïve, but it never even occurred to me that I could not teach art,” she said. “Once I was back in the classroom, I was back in my mode and don’t recall thinking about being blind. What was so interesting to me when I first started working here, specifically with the older students, was the number of times I heard, ‘You’re blind like me, and you’re a teacher?’ They had never heard of such a thing, and it was just shocking to them that someone who was blind was a teacher.”
Artwork that’s meant to be touched
Lavelle School did not have an arts program until Jones came on staff, so she had no idea what to expect creating the program from the ground up with input from her first students.
“I was instantly profoundly moved by the ways I witnessed students adapting to making artworks,” she said. “It’s artwork meant to be touched, manipulated — it will not break if a child drops it on the floor. They have this ethic of making things that are available to people and instead of getting the teasing and ‘you can’t do that’ that they get outside of school, they invite the community to come see what they can do.”
Assistant Principal Deni Fraser has seen firsthand how beneficial the school’s art program and art show has been for students, who range from ages 3 to 21.
“It’s helped them in so many ways. They are taught that art is an extension of who you are, and there’s no right and wrong,” he said. “It just boosted their self-esteem and confidence.”