December 9th, 2020
Student artwork continues to brighten the lives of the community thanks to the efforts of Melanie Kloet, art teacher at Forest Heights Collegiate Institute (FHCI) in Kitchener. In the earliest days of the pandemic and emergency school closures, Kloet was focused on how to help those hardest hit. She developed a plan to safely share student artwork with local long-term care homes, an act of generosity that did not go unnoticed. Tina Rowe, principal of FHCI, and Rob Waldeck, visual art department head, both noticed the act of kindness and nominated her to be a WRDSB 2020 Champion.
“Melanie took initiative in a really difficult time,” said Rowe. “To try and do something that would help in a time when there was a lot of uncertainty – that’s pretty amazing.”
The initiative shown by Kloet didn’t take either of them by surprise.
“She’s always going above and beyond,” said Waldeck. “She’s a beacon of positivity all the time. That’s her go-to – being positive.”
Kloet is passionate about sharing student artwork, Rowe explained, and is often looking for any opportunity to share it with staff and the school community. When schools closed, Kloet lost the ability to display art in her usual way, but she didn’t let that stop her. She knew the power student art has to brighten spirits, and in the early days of the pandemic, when so much was still uncertain, the need was greater than ever.
“She’s incredibly proud of our students’ artwork,” said Rowe. “Melanie sees what art can do to lift the human spirit when times are dark.”
The timing was just right, explained Kloet. She’d been receiving a significant amount of artwork from students, both past and present, but had no audience for it. When she heard the news of how significantly COVID-19 was impacting some local LTC homes, she saw a chance to help make a difference.
“It just felt like the perfect opportunity to share these students’ hard work and talent with a group of people that had a need for it,” said Kloet. It was about “wanting them to know we’re thinking of them and adding a little bit of sunshine to their day.”
Kloet had the art printed out on sturdy paper, before quarantining sets of prints for each LTC home in envelopes for delivery. This was a rewarding experience, she explained, and often involved friendly waves from windows as she completed the deliveries.
Forest Heights has a longstanding relationship with Trinity Village Care Centre, a not-for-profit organization owned by Lutheran Homes Kitchener-Waterloo, through the Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program, which partners secondary students with seniors in the collaborative creation of art, fostering friendship, connection and learning for all involved. Trinity Village was one of the LTC homes that received art packages from Kloet, but they’ve taken the student art, and are turning it into something even more impactful.
When Kathy Bender, recreationist and lead OMA facilitator at Trinity Village, received the first package of art from Kloet, she saw the perfect opportunity to continue fostering the partnership and connection between residents and students. Residents at Trinity Village created poetry in response to the student art, both of which are being combined in a book that will soon be available.
“We just sent the book out to the printers this morning,” said Bender. “So, I’m just super-excited about it.”
For residents, many of whom have dementia, the experience has been an empowering one, continuing the important work of OMA even though the students and residents cannot come together in person. “It gives them a voice,” said Bender, who added that residents are able to access long-term memories by viewing the art, further empowering them through the act of remembering. The resulting poetry is the distillation of their emotions in response.
“William Wordsworth defined poetry as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” said Bender. “These are certainly powerful feelings that come from our residents.”
For Kloet, the entire experience affirms the significance of the arts, and their power to shine light in dark times.
“You don’t have to have a background in art, to appreciate art,” said Kloet. “It would be hard to look at the student artwork and not be moved by their talent.”
WRDSB 2020 Champions
It has been a year unlike any other in public education. All that we have achieved together as the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) would not have been possible without the individual contributions of our staff to support our students, staff and community.
We’ve received hundreds of nominations for WRDSB 2020 Champions from our internal campaign. We will be sharing a selection of these stories with our community in the lead-up to the winter break to help end the year on a bright note of positivity in a year when these are too few and far between. Join us by sharing these stories and more on social media with #ShareTheGood.