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Art appreciation

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Students who wander the maze of hallways at Scott County Central schools aren't trying to cut class but just want to get a glimpse of what Damon Jennings is doing.

Jennings, who teaches fifth grade in the district, can be seen paintbrush in hand, with a cart of open paint cans nearby as he strolls down the hallway on his way to a new artistic creation.

Since July, Jennings has been painting small murals and pictures in the halls at the school. At first, he just wanted to liven up his classroom but when students, teachers and administrators saw his work, they offered their support for more.

"I was just bored with my room and asked the superintendent if I could paint," Jennings said.

Art was his minor in college, so Jennings had some background. He free-hands most of his pictures, choosing them from magazines, books or off the Internet.

After finishing a reading mural in his room, he branched out to the hallway. He has painted everything from superheroes to Native American artwork, and more murals are planned. He intends to add Sesame Street characters in the kindergarten hallway by year's end and another mural near the library soon after.

The artwork has done plenty to create a better atmosphere in the buildings, said superintendent JoAnne Northern. "It's just brightened everything up."

Since the school was beginning a new character education program, Jennings added a wall of "Super Stars" outside the elementary offices. Students who are awarded for good behavior get to add a star to the painting.

There is a gallery of super heroes -- from Batman to Wonder Woman -- on the wall outside the cafeteria and multipurpose room. Underneath the drawings are the words "Heroes don't use drugs."

As he painted the super heroes, students would gather before school in the hallway to see what he was doing, Jennings said. Some would ask what he'd paint next or why he chose a particular color. A few offered suggestions for which super heroes to add to the mural: DragonballZ was a popular suggestion.

But the paintings are just as much a surprise for the teachers as they are for the students. Jennings selects his own drawings and shows them to the superintendent before submitting a request for supplies.

"We knew what we wanted in the gym, but otherwise it's a surprise," Northern said.

Jennings spent much of July in the gymnasium without air-conditioning, painting an Indian logo on the gym floor and adding smaller pictures and words to the corners of the room. He's added tomahawks to the hallway in the junior and senior high school building and there are Braves and Bravettes letterings painted in school colors above the lockers.

"I try to pick something that the kids know or like," Jennings said. He added a character from the Playstation2 video game "Street Hoops" to the entry outside the gymnasium.

A picture from a Blue's Clues book will go outside the pre-kindergarten room. "I want something that gets them excited," Jennings said. "Something popular but not a fad."

Jennings' artwork has sparked some students' interests in art education. "They ask me about their projects or show me something," he said.

Students come to school now not just for their education but to see what Jennings is doing next. "He's been a good role model," Northern said.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126


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