Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Holiday In Florida

A Holiday In Florida

In high school, Stranahan Public School, my female service club would bring a frozen turkey and all the trimmings in beautifully wrapped food baskets to the needy, to all races back in the 1960s. We gave baskets to hundreds of families.

We had two female service clubs, both did charitable work. You had to be invited to join. There were a total of 80 girls chosen out of over 500 female students, in a student body of nearly a 1000. It was a honor.

I was in Juniorettes, sponsored by the Junior Women's Club of Ft. Lauderdale. We also volunteered at the only center for severely disabled children, the Sunshine School, run by my neighbor, who I babysat for. His brother had Down's Syndrome and was 16 at the time I started babysitting him. I agree with Sarah Palin on this wholeheartedly,  that it was wrong for anyone to make fun of her son.

I was 17 and look nothing
like that anymore,
except for the hair.
We would raise money throughout the years in a variety of ways for the holiday turkey baskets. The most popular and profitable was the Variety Show we held every year. My last year Juniorettes won first prize. It was a satirical short play on Fairy Book Tales. I was selected to design the set. I enabled the skills of our brother clubs in the construction of a giant Fairy Tale Book. I drew the characters and everyone joined in painting by numbers, I penciled in. We turned the 8 foot pages for our five skits.

The dialogue was clever and the audience loved it.

I was one of the Three Blind Mice making fun of the girl's locker room, which was right off our Olympic size pool, with a separate section for diving. I had a gorgeous public high school education.

80% of my public school teachers had  Masters or PHDs. Ft Lauderdale did attract many good teachers from around the country, including several military retirees. The teachers were mostly liberal in thought and very creative in their teaching methods and activities in and out of the classroom, it was encouraged.

The neighborhood I grew up in was very American middle class, except that the houses were in pastel colors.The guidance counselor was also my neighbor and I grew up with her 3 kids.

The female teacher who headed Juniorettes, would always remind us what we were raising money for, the people in need.

I have never experienced a similar joy as giving to those in need, be it a turkey basket or seeing the joy on the face of a disabled child creating his own art for the first time. Those experiences gave me the inspiration to get an additional degree in Art Education from the School of Visual Arts at FSU.

Most of my high school classmates went on to have amazing
lives. We had such a unique education. 75% of my graduating class went on to higher learning.

I was lucky enough to have taught at one of the top private schools in Florida. The Maclay School in Tallahassee. In 1972, with about 2 years of college under my belt, I was judged and approved for academic certification by the Independent Schools of Florida, which certified private school instructors, which was an honor in itself. I was made head of the lower Art Dept, grades 1-8. The new assistant headmaster who hired me, was my neighbor who watched me work my way through school, plus I was his landlord, as I managed an upscale 48 apt complex to help pay my way through FSU. He loved my art work and demeanor.

Maclay was very unique. Children were taking three languages starting in grade one. They were the children of Tallahassee's elite.

I designed sets for their plays and even designed their yearbook. I was guided by the head of the upper school art department, who had a doctorate and loved my enthusiasm. He taught me to teach the children with the influence of music. I often would play the children a song and would ask them to draw what they felt, be it, a reminder of a picnic or going to the park, or even their mama's cooking. That was always a fun assignment.

The Fine Arts building at Florida State University in 1974.
By the fall quarter of 1973, I was ending the last phase of obtaining my degree. I had to intern. So I resigned my position at Maclay School, as it would not qualify as an internship. FSU had strict rules.

My professor requested that I intern at an all poor, black school of farm worker's children in Gretna, Florida, grades 1-6. I agreed, easily, as it was only a 45 minute drive away.

I would play film strips provided by the State of Florida's Library system and then ask the children to draw what they saw. The art teacher I was interning for, Mrs. Pottinger (a white woman married to a state attorney in Tally) was amazed the first time I did it. I showed these poor, under educated children, their very first view of the solar system and our relationship to earth. They had no idea they lived on a planet.

I handed out black construction paper and  crayons, the supplies we already had on hand. The school's art budget was tiny.

What came next, was an explosion of art. I hung every drawing of all my grades in the hallways. The teachers were delighted, not only by the beautiful art, but by their students.

Mrs. Pottinger, who was a lovely woman, who truly loved teaching her students, asked me how I came up with that idea. I said, blame FSU, they had me write a detailed 200 page book, with 4 other students on art therapy lesson plans, the semester before, and I laughed. I told Mrs. Pottinger to request as many interns as she wants and to encourage the other teachers to do the same.

One little boy was in my first grade class. His name was Frankie. He was half black with red hair. Frankie was some white farmer's offspring with the help. He never spoke a word, not one. The kid refused to talk and rarey smiled.. He didn't even have a birth certificate, but the school guessed he was around 7 and thought he was mute.

I worked with Frankie from Sept to Dec. of 1973. On the last day, when we were making Christmas cards, Frankie walked up to me and gave me the Christmas card he made with a reindeer he drew. He said, "Thank you. I will miss you."

I was so stunned at first, then I picked that precious child up and hugged him while I swung him around the room. I said, "You can Talk, Frankie!" He nodded yes and said I was one of the few that paid attention to him. He was no mute as every teacher thought, including me.

I wanted to adopt that little boy. He was ostracized by his own family. I pray I gave that little boy hope and that he was able to find a good life.

I think of Frankie every Christmas.

I often wondered how much more successful Frankie and all students that didn't have a good public education, would have been if they attended a quality school, as I did in the same friggin' state.

When I relayed all this to my professor, a lovely black woman, who was highly accomplished in the art education field,  smiled at me and said, "I knew you would make a difference, Lisa, and they needed your help, that's why I requested you teach at a poor school. Now go out into the world and continue to educate people through art. The world is your oyster."

So here I am 5 decades later spreading my art therapy with pixels, instead of paint, all over the world. My professor was right, the world is my oyster.

I am truly blessed.

Thank you dear viewers, each and every one of you for inspiring me.

Best wishes for the brightest New Year ever.

Deep curtsy.

 Peace through art.


  1. Thanks, Lisa,
    It was nice to learn more about you. Your posting is poignant and inspirational.
    Joe Melton