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ESE student works featured in annual gallery display

May 13, 2024

ESE Student art showWhen Damien Lockwood first spotted his painting hanging in the Tully-Levine Gallery during the Second Saturday ArtWalk, he had just one word.

“Speechless,” he said.

That single word brought both his mom and art teacher to tears as they beamed with pride seeing Damien’s smile.

Damien was one of about 50 Exceptional Student Education (ESE) students from four schools whose art was on display in the Warehouse Arts District on Saturday. This year’s theme was “The Games We Play,” and the exhibit featured components such as “Barrel of Monkeys,” “Checkers, Anyone?” “Candyland,” and “Roll the Dice.”

All artwork was created by students with adaptive and behavioral disabilities, so teachers thought through how to best encourage independent creation. This year, three of those teachers – Zachary Thompson at Richard L. Sanders School, Nick Kozlowski at Paul B. Stephens School and Theresa Meyer at Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center – decided to document the creation of the pieces and share QR codes that let attendees see the process, not just the result.

ESE Student art show

“I feel this allows the public to understand the processes the students go through to create the work and communicate about it,” Meyer said. “It lets the public know that these students are capable of doing so much but just need a little help and adaptations to get it done.”  

Kendrick Broughton, a student at Richard L. Sanders, had the largest single piece in the show, a colorful canvas of oil pastels featuring abstract faces, hearts, and flowers.

“I wanted to make it smokey,” he said of smudging the pastels. “I like the different versions of characters I create.”

According to his mom, Kendrick has been creating art since he was 5, but working with Thompson has pushed him to grow. He often draws faces and most of the time only shows one eye. His mom later learned that he is legally blind in one eye.

“These students don’t have a lot of opportunity to show their work, which is why we wanted to create a show specifically for them,” said Thompson, who started the Annual ESE Center Show, the first of its kind in Florida at the time, in 2018. “Kendrick is an extremely talented artist.”

All three teachers will be presenting at the Florida Art Education Association’s annual conference in October and speaking on ESE-specific topics. Thompson will be presenting on how to create an ESE art show and ESE behavioral management. Kozlowski will present on adaptive art techniques.

The teachers are already starting to plan for next year’s show and also brainstorming how they can get their students’ work out for public consumption more often. It just takes creative thinking and adapting to varying physical and mental abilities, said Kozlowski.

“I know what you can get from ESE students,” Thompson said. “They just need a little help, but once you gain that trust, everything changes.”