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Davis Journal

Teens learn to identify emotions and create art

Nov 10, 2021 12:52PM ● By Peri Kinder

A person driving the wrong direction almost made Jamie Wheeler a widow. Her husband was hit by the driver and spent weeks in the ICU in a medically-induced coma. She sat in the hospital, listening to alarms going off and watching nurses rush to her husband’s bedside, and felt completely helpless. 

Looking for a way to cope, Wheeler found some art supplies and used her time in the hospital painting and sketching, releasing emotions that helped her work through the pain and trauma as her husband recovered.

“I filled his room with art that brought me peace and I knew he would love it,” she said. 

Several years later, after COVID-19 turned the world upside down, Wheeler pondered her experience with her husband and wondered if she could help her art students at Farmington Junior High School channel feelings in a healthy way through sculpture and design. As she reflected on her students’ past projects, she realized their art was missing something: emotion.

Famous artists, from Michelangelo to Picasso, delved into their emotions to create masterpieces that moved people and caught their attention. Wheeler decided to emulate those masters and teach students how to identify their feelings and work through hard emotions using stained glass, mosaics and sculpture.

“When I first started, I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was, that tapping into their emotions would be easy. But it’s been really hard for them,” Wheeler said. “I have learned more about my students in these first few weeks of starting projects than I have in a whole semester of working with students in the past. They are so strong and deal with so much, good and bad.”

One student was going through a change in his family’s structure and trying to act like it was no big deal. But he was heartbroken and embarrassed to express that sadness. Wheeler creates a safe place for students to investigate their emotions. She knows she’s not a counselor, but she provides a listening ear and offers direction as the students confront fear, anxiety, stress, anger and feelings of inadequacy. 

Wheeler often gives students permission to slow down, disconnect from social media and start an easy self-care routine that involves more rest and more downtime. She’s discovered some students are exhausted, dealing with anxiety or just plain hungry. 

“Change is hard but it's easier if we understand the root of the pain,” she said. “These kids have lives outside of school. It’s opened my mind up to how complex these kids’ lives are. Their art explains a lot and I’m so proud of them for using it for good and being brave enough to face some of the many hard things they go through.”

Wheeler is proud of the strength her students demonstrate, and she knows for some students, just showing up is an accomplishment. 

“I am so happy that their art has helped them think through moments in their life, work through a traumatic memory, to help drive them forward, and so much more,” she said. “If I leave a kid a happier and more confident person in this world, as an art teacher, I’ll feel successful.”