By Cyndy Slovak-Barton
Love of making art, teaching and traveling all came together this summer for Wallace Middle School art teacher Adrienne Simes.
Simes, in her 11th year at Hays CISD, spent her second consecutive summer teaching art to local children in Costa Rica.
The students, ranging in age from three to 14-years-old, attended classes twice a week. Most were local Caribbean Spanish speakers, but others attended the classes as well.
“As I taught more classes, more kids would show up,” Simes said. “(With) each class, more and more students attended.”
She said that most of the students were already attending other afterschool or afternoon classes and just showed up; others came because their parents were taking an English class in the same building.
Simes said she did not get to set up the classes until after she arrived. She found the organization through online research, but could not get in touch with the directors until she arrived in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
“I asked around town about wanting to teach art classes to local kids and was pointed in their direction,” Simes said. “One day I went to talk to the main director and we made plans from there.”
With classes ranging from 15 to 35 students at a time, supplies were in demand. Simes brought most of the supplies herself, but was limited in what she could bring by airlines baggage weight limits – and her own funds.
“I took personal art supplies, I was creating art for myself and painted a few murals for local businesses as well. At the end of my journey, I donated these to the organization as well,” Simes said.
“I wish I could have taken more or would have shipped supplies beforehand as they were so excited to get things they have never used.”
Basing her purchases on what her students at Wallace Middle School like, Simes bought basic watercolors, metallic watercolors, oil pastels, paper, crayons, metallic markers and many nice paint brushes.
“I think the two things they loved the most were good paint brushes and the oil pastels and metallic watercolors,” she said.
At the end of her time in Costa Rica, Simes donated the rest of her supplies to the school.
“The director cried when I handed her the supplies and told her they were for the kids; they coulnd’t believe it.”
This is not Simes’ first experience traveling abroad, so she knew what was needed. She first taught last year in Nicaragua, where she taught with her fellow art teacher Amy Cigainero.
“That experience was so rewarding that I really wanted to continue that work. I felt such pride in bringing art in many forms to kids and commuinities in other countries.”
Simes started learning Spanish while in high school. “I then learned the most when I started to travel to Central American and was forced to adapt,” she said. “The people there are very helpful and really give great time and energy to help those wanting to learn.”
While at Texas State University, Simes travelled abroad, studying art history and photography in Italy.
But it wasn’t until she began traveling again in recent years that she started teaching during travels.
“I have always loved to travel and it wasn’t until I started traveling a few years ago by myself that the notion of ‘giving back’ to the communities I travel to came to me,” she said. “I felt it was a nice way to leave my mark where I go.”
Simes said most of the students she has seen do not have the opportunities to study art in structured classes.
“I felt bad for the kids that they didn’t have the opportunities to create art and learn and that within these communities could be amazing artists that just didn’t know it yet.”
Simes has a company, Destination Journey, through which she takes adults on adventure experiences in Central America. This year, the group went to an off-the-grid parmaculture farm in Costa Rica. This organization helps Simes get to a destination, and then she travels on her own or with friends for weeks around the retreat.
In the end, it is the personal growth that seems to drive Simes, as she tries to raise money to take more materials, teach more classes – to both students and adults.
“It is an amazing feeling to give back. As a tourist and traveler most go to a destination and take, take, take, I wanted to change this. I wanted to leave a piece of myself that others could appreciate in the future.”