June 24, 2024 9:48 am

Finding their ‘roots and wings’

When their teacher asked them to design images that symbolized where they came from – and where they hoped to go – to paint on shoes, many of the Jemtegaard Middle School students in art teacher Dani Allen’s class struggled with the assignment.

Allen admits her assignment, which she called the “Roots and Wings” project, was not easy.

“Many of the first sketches were not even close to the ‘roots and wings’ theme. Students drew their favorite anime, or a sunset, or fire on both shoes,” Allen said. “I’d ask how this fit the theme, and they got frustrated that they could not do their original idea and were not sure how to do what we asked. They said it was too difficult.”

But Allen didn’t give up. And neither did her students.

“It was like, out of the blue, they just got it,” Allen said. “Maybe students were afraid to share because they thought I might say you can’t do that, or you will never make it. Maybe it just took them some time to feel safe sharing.”

Wendy Butler, a prevention specialist at Washougal’s Jemtegaard and Canyon Creek middle schools, said the project challenged students to “reflect deeply and then use their creativity to express elements in their life that have been their foundation and to express a direction they want to move towards in the future.

“It was not a cookie-cutter assignment. It was difficult for students to figure out what we were asking in the beginning,” Butler said. “But with Dani’s guidance, they were finally able to understand the assignment and be able to express themselves.”

Allen partnered with Butler and Margaret McCarthy, director of Unite! Washougal Community Coalition.

The idea behind the “Roots and Wings” project began as an afterschool art club assignment, but had to be put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When McCarthy suggested the concept might work for eighth-grade art students, instead, Allen agreed. Butler came up with the name “Roots and Wings” and worked with the students to understand and embrace the assignment parameters, and Unite! Washougal purchased shoes, paint and paintbrushes.

“Projects like this and the conversations they inspire are important for Unite! to offer,” McCarthy said. “We want youth to know there are adults in the community that care about them and their journey to their dreams.”

The women invited Ronnie Wright, a senior footwear design director at Nike, to speak to the art students over Zoom.

Wright shared drawings and sketches he’d done Vibram Shoes Five Fingers in middle school and told the students to be like sponges, taking in everything around them, and challenged the middle-schoolers to find their passion in life.

“He made such an unbelievable connection,” Butler said. “My hope was that he would sprinkle the magic of dreaming in their hearts. He was very inspiring for our students.”

The project also connected to Unite! Washougal’s “Love Your Life Washougal” campaign, which encourages students to make healthy life choices.

“This was such a great opportunity for Unite! and (Jemtegaard) to work together,” Butler said. “We look for every chance we can to get the prevention message out there and challenge students to look at goals and their future.”

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