Guest Blog by Adrian Dodson-Physical Education Teacher/All Star Teacher of the Year-Pass Road Elementary School-Gulfport, MS
“It definitely needs something” I said to myself, while surveying the dull white walls inside the antiquated gym. The gym where I’d spend eight hours a day teaching elementary students the most important class of their lives, physical education. Neither a window, nor a ray of sunlight to be found anywhere in the primer grey and achromatic pale dividers that surrounded me. I was beginning to question my decision to even accept this position as an elementary P.E. teacher.
Always one to fall back on two constants that forever brighten my own mood, I thought about music and art, and how they could help remedy this predicament of the drab gymnasium. My mind raced with ideas. I need light, and brightness, and dazzling colors, and high energy to promote enthusiasm…I need fitness buzz words posted and shiny happy children exercising (to the B-52’s)…I need this gym to be THE most exciting and special place my students had ever walked into…And most of all I needed…HELP making it happen! That help would come in the form of a very special group of college students from William Carey University, my old alma mater.
While strolling out of my favorite coffee shop several days later, I saw them. Meticulously studying the majestic oaks draped in moss that surrounded the noshery’s courtyard, they sketched, as the sound of Eddie Vedder’s tortured wails echoed from a boom box. Hmmm…”Definitely my kind of people” I thought. “Hello fellow artsy, grunge rock loving, stylish cool dudes and dudettes” (I may have just said “hello I’m Coach Dodson and I need you to paint a mural in a gym for free”, I’m not certain). Regardless, the initial encounter was a positive one, and I was sure this talented gaggle of artists would be the answer in the case of the lackluster gym.
After meeting the instructor of the William Carey College art and design class, we decided on a theme for the décor of my gym. We would photograph the students from my school as they frolic uninhibited around the playground. We would then cast those images onto the walls via projector, and superimpose the actual kids themselves in pencil drawings. They would try and capture the youthful enthusiasm of each individual doing the most natural thing a child does, playing without a care in the world! After sketching out each child, along with the landscape and playground equipment they reveled upon, bright coats of primary colors were brushed onto the once mundane barriers. Within a week the old gym began to come alive with breathtaking colors and scenes which featured the students of Pass Road Elementary School in action.
Looking back now, ten years later, I am sure that the atmosphere created by those outstanding artists made a huge difference in my physical education classes. As those walls began to come alive a funny thing happened, so did I. I dedicated my entire life to promoting health and fitness to the students who walk through the doors of that glorious gym. That colorful mural serves as a cornerstone to my commitment and a reminder of what I strive to portray. I have been fortunate enough to garner many accolades and awards over the course of ten years. I am convinced much of that success stems from a passion which was awakened by a group of artists. Like clockwork, my former students come back to visit the old gym, gazing up at their image on the great walls. I sense a warmth that takes them back to a happy time, a time I was fortunate to be a part of, and like a doting father, I feel a sense of accomplishment for being allowed that privilege. I am a better man because of the time and fellowship spent teaching, exercising, playing, nurturing and being as one with God’s precious children inside those walls.
As I sit here today, Pearl Jam’s Alive blaring through my gym’s sound system, amid a sea of colorful portraits and memorabilia, I would say to you…Never underestimate the power of music, art and physical education to change the life of a child. Or maybe even an adult if you embrace it!