By Betsy DiJulio
Art teacher, Princess Anne High School
Pandemics, as it turns out, are double-edge swords of contraction and expansion, creating dire circumstances while presenting opportunities for innovation, growth and problem-solving at every level.
Not since graduate school, funded in part by my $150/month teaching assistantship stipend, have I dealt with food insecurity. But in March, as grocery store shelves emptied out despite assurances that “supply lines are strong,” I began to have irrational runaway thoughts about food deprivation. Therefore, when Betsy Morris, a friend and VBCPS colleague invited me to cut kale at her farm one beautiful afternoon, I leapt at the opportunity. Though I shared it with others, I kept a healthy portion for myself, making it into soups that I froze should my worst fears be realized. My kale harvest wasn’t going to keep me or anyone else alive in a massive food shortage, but the sun warming my face, the sight of broad golden fields of verdant collards and kale stretching before me, the pungent smell of damp earth, and my hearty haul of fresh cut greens made me feel more hopeful and resourceful in the short term; like I had met one challenge head-on.
Feeling more at ease about the ability to tend to my basic needs, the acquisition of toilet paper notwithstanding, I began to focus more on psychological needs, namely what Abraham Maslow referred to as belongingness, love and esteem. After two 20-minute grab-and-go appointments at my school, the back of my car was stacked high with Advanced and AP student artwork that I collected from their drawers. At the higher levels, students are developing thematic portfolios. To my way of thinking, these artists needed to see and feel their previous work in order to build on—and revise—what they had already accomplished as we move toward the AP exam in May.
I spent three afternoons driving from Pembroke to the Chesapeake Bay to Pungo, delivering the work—plus cards and art-supply “happies”—to each student, as well as accommodating special requests for art materials they lacked, practicing social distancing all the while. I was especially insistent via text before and after my visits that students wash or sanitize their hands. At one mother’s clever suggestion, I left the work in the trunk of her car where it could remain for a few days before being brought indoors. A second followed suit. Though I expected nothing in return except the grounded feeling of knowing the work was with its rightful owners, I received cards and gifts left on porches and in trunks. At one home, I stood in the front yard blowing kisses and making hand-hearts to my beloved student on the other side of her plate glass living room window. This experience enabled me to appreciate firsthand the vastly different circumstances from which my students come, while feeling a deeper connection to them: a semblance of the community we had created face-to-face—Maslow’s belongingness and love—but inflected with poignancy.
Day by day, as situations related to instruction and to daily life arise, we, along with enterprising individuals and businesses, find ourselves addressing needs, while having our own met, in ever more imaginative ways. I am relieved to report that I have not gone hungry and, thanks to curbside service at both Jerry’s Artarama and Independence Veterinary Hospital, I am able to make art for my myself and my students, and my dogs are protected against fleas and ticks. Galleries are still showing my work—which has taken a somewhat darker “hope tempered” tone—albeit with virtual openings. And my students—a percentage of them at least—continue to inspire me, each other, and our social media followers with relevant work in response to challenging assignments.
Some of my freelance writing work continues and has even expanded. I have doubled up on my DIY Décor column, as more people are housebound and finding time for home improvements. But, alas, some of it has contracted, as restaurants, other small businesses, and arts organizations on whom we rely for advertising revenue are unable to provide that just now.
For one takeaway, I turn to physics: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Though there is contraction in every sector of virtually every society around the world, there is also the potential for heretofore unimagined expansion. And it is incumbent upon those of us with the financial and physical wherewithal to craft and nurture those expansive opportunities not only for ourselves, our families and our friends, but for our students, their families, our colleagues and, for that matter, complete strangers.
“When Schools Are Closed” is an ongoing guest column that anyone in the VBCPS community may contribute to. If you are interested in writing about how the school closing is affecting your daily routine, please contact Sondra Woodward in the Department of Communications and Community Engagement.