Jemtegaard Middle School eighth grade art student Aubrey Timmons recognizes that playing softball is an important foundation in her life. She aspires to someday create and illustrate characters for Pixar Studios. Eleanor Livengood is inspired by the beauty of the mountains she sees everywhere she looks and her dog, Josie. She dreams to work professionally with dogs and visit Arizona to see cactus and Alaska with its magnificent waterfalls that she feels symbolize movement through life.
Using tennis shoes as their media, Timmons, Livengood and their entire art class have discovered and illustrated these ideas through the Roots and Wings art project – one shoe represents their foundation and the other their goals. The project was a partnership with JMS art teacher, Dani Allen; Margaret McCarthy, UNITE! Washougal Executive Director; and Wendy Butler, JMS and CCMS Prevention Specialist.
The idea started as a UNITE! sponsored afterschool art club project for youth 11-18, but due to COVID, the activity could not be offered. So, McCarthy suggested implementing it with eighth-grade art students. Allen had led a similar project years ago using shoe outlines on paper, not real shoes, so she agreed. Butler came up with the name Roots and Wings and helped students to understand and embrace the assignment parameters.
“The students were challenged to reflect deeply and then use their creativity to express elements in their life that have been their foundation and to express a direction they want to move towards in the future,” said Butler. “I love that students have freedom in this project. It was not a cookie cutter assignment.”
Unite! Washougal purchased the shoes, paints, brushes, and all the materials to make the project happen. “Projects like this and the conversations they inspire are important for UNITE! to offer,” said McCarthy. “We want our youth to know there are adults in the community that care about them and their journey to their dreams.”
Butler and Allen launched the project by talking with the class about the theme and suggesting ideas on what each shoe could represent. Once students had their sketched idea, they explained them and how it fit the theme to Allen.
“The assignment was not easy,” admitted Allen. “Many of the first sketches were not even close to the roots and wings theme. Students drew their favorite anime, or a sunset, or fire on both shoes. I’d ask how this fit the theme and they got frustrated that they could not do their original idea and were not sure how to do what we asked. They said it was too difficult.”
So, Allen and Butler kept talking to students one-on-one and finally broke through. “It was like out of the blue, they just got it,” Allen said.
Butler agrees, “It was difficult for students to figure out what we were asking in the beginning,” she said. “But with Dani’s guidance they were finally able to understand the assignment and be able to express themselves.”
The project got Allen thinking about when she was this age and in their ‘shoes.’ “I wanted to play professional baseball and be the first female in the major leagues and live on a boat,” Allen remembered. “None of that came true, but those were my hopes and dreams at the time. Maybe students were afraid to share because they thought I might say you can’t do that, or you will never make it. Maybe it just took them some time to feel safe sharing.”
One of the project highlights was the opportunity for the class to hear via zoom from Ronnie Wright, VP of Design of Children’s Jordan’s shoes and apparel for Nike. “He travels around the world and meets with athletes like Michael Jordan and Serina Williams,” explained Allen. “He came and talked to us just because he cares about youth.”
Wright shared his drawings and sketches from when he was the same age as the students. He advised them to “be a sponge” and take in everything around them. He challenged them to find something they like and other people that like that same thing and ask questions to get as much information as they can. Wright also assured students that they do not have to be the best, they just must want to always get better. “He made such an unbelievable connection,” Butler said. “My hope was that he would sprinkle the magic of dreaming in their hearts. He was very inspiring for our students.”
And students were inspired! Ellie Sneer designed her shoes to show her roots in Washougal with mountains and her love of playing volleyball. “My wing shoe shows the skyline of Nashville where I want to study business at Belmont University.” Savanna Boothby’s shoe designs feature illustrations of the states of Washington and Idaho with a red dot showing where she lives. “Washington is where my roots are and is a place that I did not choose to live,” she explained. “My goal is to live in Idaho. I have family there and love to visit.” Her wing shoe also expresses her dream to be an orthodontist and visit New Orleans to listen to jazz music.
The Roots and Wings project also connects to UNITES! “Love Your Life Washougal” campaign which encourages students to look at their life through a positive lens and make healthy choices to stay on track to be where they want life to take them.
“This was such a great opportunity for UNITE! and JMS to work together,” said Butler. “We look for every chance we can to get the prevention message out there and challenge students to look at goals and their future.”
A proud moment came for Allen when a student put on their finished shoes and wore them home. “That told me he was proud of what he had done,” she explained. “Even though the rule was to keep them at school for display, I was okay with this and said nothing. I just watched as they walked away and as they waited for the bus. It was such an amazing moment. It made my heart happy.”