By Samantha Smith
A love of art can take a person to places far and wide.
For Wallace Middle School art teacher Adrienne Simes, her love of art has taken her across the gulf to the Dominican Republic, where she shared her passion with children and their communities who don”t have as much access to art.
Simes has been teaching for 14 years, almost 11 of those years have been spent teaching art at Wallace Middle School in Kyle, where she brings her international teaching experiences to her Hays CISD students.
According to Simes, she and a colleague, Amy Cigainero, a teacher at Negley Elementary, were traveling in Nicaragua and staying in a small community when they felt as if they wanted to give something back to the members of the small community acting as their gracious hosts.
“We wanted to give back to the people there and noticed that the students did not have access to art classes. We looked for an opportunity at a local library/community center that gathered students after school everyday,” Simes said.
Simes and Cigainero were then introduced to organizers in the community who helped them set up makeshift art schools, where they could teach children how to create art and express themselves through it using any materials, whether it be oil paints, watercolors or clay.
“Giving the gift of art was something that just seemed right,” Simes said.
According to Simes, it wasn’t long before more people wanted to get involved and contribute to the communities.
“We started by bringing others down to experience the culture through retreats that we were putting on for adults and we began organizing service projects to create cultural awareness in others. Teaching just seemed like the perfect way to promote this awareness in a group setting,” Simes said.
Although the experiences Simes has gained teaching abroad are boundless, like the feeling she gets when she sees a child filled with joy because of art, she does admit that there are challenges that must be overcome as well.
One challenge in particular is how to fund the trip. Simes said currently she must save all year in order to fund her abroad teaching expeditions.
It’s their hope that one day, Simes, Cigainero and other interested parties might find funding for the expenses involved in her goodwill mission.
Another challenge Simes identified is the language gap. The Dominican Republic is a Spanish-speaking nation and sometimes lessons can get lost in translation. But Simes and others have already begun to remedy that issue by learning Spanish.
Limitations in the supplies they can bring is also an issue. Simes, however, viewed this challenge as an opportunity instead of a handicap.
“We try to incorporate materials that they have access to and use recycled materials so they can continue to create when we leave,” Simes said.
Despite bumps along the way, Simes said she has been enjoying the journey, and she’s not alone.
Everywhere she teaches art, Simes said she has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents and community members regarding the artwork and lessons she has shared.
“I have yet to have the community or parents have a negative reaction to this adventure,” said Simes recalling how many murals she has painted on the walls of small businesses once the owners saw how beautiful her art was.
“We have had organizers cry when we donate supplies and our time, thankful because they are working hard with very little and we ask for nothing in return,” Simes said.
Simes not only wants to spread a love of art, she wants to spread the love of giving back to others as well by inviting all who are interested to get involved.
“We have opportunities for teachers or just adults to travel with us and participate in this type of service projects through our travel group called Destination Journey (www.traveldestinationjourney.com).”