A discussion about spirit animals preceded the exercise, seemingly pretty elusive stuff for fourth-graders.
But, said teacher Chad Wallis, each of eight of his students at the Oakland Terrace School for the Arts in Panama City, when asked to choose an animal as the subject for an art project, selected a creature that mirrored her own characteristics.
The students were asked to create artwork representing the pet they would most like to own. The tally: four dogs, one horse, one cat, one hamster and one bearded dragon.
Once, Oakland Terrace was intended to serve as a magnet school for students with an interest in visual and performing arts. But, said Wallis, state art funding was withdrawn and the school’s consuming focus came to be on improving standardized test scores.
“Most of our kids come from homes with very modest incomes,” Wallis said. “Many have no male role model in the household. The hurricane only made conditions worse. These students have talent and abilities like kids in wealthier neighborhoods, but they have a lot of circumstances to overcome.”
This fall, Oakland Terrace will no longer be a community elementary school. Its students will be divided between elementary schools elsewhere, and Oakland Terrace’s buildings will host two storm-battered programs: the local chapter of Girls Inc. and an alternative school that specializes in working with children with behavioral issues.
The art project surfaced a love of art and of animals in the participating students. Meeting with “the man from the magazine,” they spoke with facility about the concepts and techniques Wallis had encouraged them to employ: vibrant, contrasting colors; blended hues; patterns; and gradients.
And, they were curious to know if an appearance in Emerald Coast Magazine would lead to fame and riches.
For several years, Chad Wallis taught at a K-8 charter school that attracts some of the best and brightest students in Bay County.
At Oakland Terrace, he worked with an ethnically and culturally diverse population of students, more than 75 percent of whom qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.
He has developed a deep affection for students facing long odds.
Girls in his classes adore him, preferring to call him, “Handsome WaWa.”
Mia Gomez: “I have a Pekingese at home named Molly. She is shy and she usually likes adults more than kids, but she taught me to love dogs. So, in my artwork, I put hearts on the ear and the chest. I used a purple-to-blue fade and a punk effect for the tail and lots of diamonds.” Photo by Michael Booini
Shaccari Leonard: “I used dark and light colors. Mr. Wallis told me not to use too much pink. I added stars and swirls and S’s, and I made one leg striped and one leg spotted. We only had three days for our project. I have two dogs, a Chihuahua named Rose and a terrier named Mumu.” Photo by Michael Booini
Hali Forbes: “Our first cat named Buddy got run over, and I was sad about that. Our new cat named Buddy is an indoor cat. We also have a golden retriever named Lulu. I put ‘850 Strong’ on my artwork because I wanted to do something about the hurricane. I gave the cat a crown because she is the queen of all cats.”
Photo by Michael Booini
Yariliz Gonzalez: “I have two dogs named Hercules and Precious and a cat named Paco. That’s Spanish. I made the pattern for the back part of my art dog and, on the head, I used light and dark colors. The middle of the dog is a sunset. I accidentally cut off its nose, but that’s OK because it looks like he is running into something.” Photo by Michael Booini
Sophia Wooten: “We have three cats at home and a husky named Timber, who gets real hot in the summer. But I really like lizards and snakes. They are cool creatures. I would like to have a lizard. I put lots of eyes on my bearded dragon and I used fades. And I put a flame on him.” Photo by Michael Booini
Jose Lynn: “I have two pets - a hamster named Steven and a guinea pig named Pinta. I made part of my artwork like a candy cane, and I blended pink and brown because it is super pretty. I added the bow at the top, and it took me about five minutes to decide what colors to make it.” Photo by Michael Booini
Emy Walker: “Where I live, you are only supposed to have four pets. But we have two mixed dogs, two cats and a Dutch hound. We are one over. I chose a horse because we are moving to the country. I am not a good person to have a horse, though, because I am not a morning person and I would not be up to feed it.” Photo by Michael Booini
Yesenia Martinez: “I don’t have any pets at home, but I would like to have a Chihuahua.
I gave my artwork hamster striped eyes, and Mr. Wallis told me to make both eyes the same. I also gave the hamster earrings. For part of it, I used a blend of red and orange and pink. It is eating lettuce, and I made that green.”
Photo by Michael Booini