A new and budding art program is taking shape at Shepherd’s Hill Academy (SHA). Led by art teacher Mrs. Kelly Deal, the program features more than just drawings and paintings. Therapeutic methods and life lessons are also a part of art class at SHA.
Shepherd’s Hill Academy features small class sizes, allowing the art program to focus on individual skills, challenges, and needs. “I like to offer a variety of techniques,” Deal says. Because every student will not be skilled in every area, Deal puts together projects that will allow artistic success while working toward individual therapeutic objectives.
One particular exercise requires students to use oil pastel or collage without the help of scissors. “I will challenge them with these media to free them from the control they ‘need,’” Deal says. “Through a guided struggle—helping the student to negotiate the challenge—they must release their ‘need’ for control and allow themselves to be okay with the mistakes. You have to enjoy the mistakes—it’s almost liberating for some students who seek perfection. This is beautiful to watch.”
Students are currently partnering with the therapeutic department to create a “Love Tree” and a “Fear Tree.” This project illustrates how our thoughts and habits can grow into healthy or stressful lives. These paintings are student-led projects and will hang in the therapy offices on campus.
Mrs. Deal has even more plans for the art program at Shepherd’s Hill Academy. “Since our art department is new and blossoming, we spend a lot of time drawing and painting,” says Deal. “We have done some mixed media with collage. We are looking toward pottery and weaving in the future. Hopefully, this fall, we will be harvesting and processing our own wool to spin, dye, and weave. Students don’t typically get to see how these processes happen, and it would be excellent to pass along this experience.”
Deal has found art to be a life-changing experience for many of her students. “Through art, students are able to gain self-confidence that may not have already been there. Oftentimes, they realize a self-worth that may not have been present before. They are able to see visual results from the work they are doing on themselves personally.” Art class gives students a chance to see how the life-skills they are developing in therapy can be applied to tangible experiences. Deal says this is “amazing to witness—whether the skill is being patient with oneself, giving oneself the grace to work through a problem, or knowing that practice and hard work do result in a skillfully executed work.”
Shepherd’s Hill Academy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit therapeutic boarding school for teens in crisis. If you are interested in donating or contributing to our art department in order to further student success, please see the Donation Needs list located at www.shepherdshillacademy.org/get-involved.