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Deaf student inspires art teacher with original ideas

Longview News-Journal

Karen Thomas started the 2002-03 school year on a new campus in a new town.

She had worked at Carthage Independent School District for 17 years — 10 as an elementary science teacher and the last seven as an art teacher.

The veteran teacher got a shock when she moved to Longview and started teaching art at Forest Park Middle School and met seventh-grader Kaitlyn Rager.

“This girl has more talent than any child I’ve ever taught,” Thomas said of 14-year-old Kaitlyn. She said Kaitlyn instinctively knows art techniques that most children can’t even grasp after intensive instruction. Her shading skills are especially advanced, Thomas said.

Thomas said she realized Kaitlyn’s talent the first time she gave her an assignment. Kaitlyn didn’t want to do the assignment. “She was really stubborn about it,” Thomas recalled. “She wanted to do her own thing. That is a very artistic mind.”

She said it took a few weeks for Kaitlyn to settle into the class. “For about two weeks, I butted heads with her a little bit,” Thomas said. “I had to loosen up and let her go.” Thomas said Kaitlyn prefers contour drawing with solid lines rather than sketching, which is simpler.

Her favorite medium is markers, her favorite color is purple and her favorite subjects are dolphins, cartoon characters and sunflowers. Thomas said other students in the classroom are benefiting from being around Kaitlyn. “Olivia (who sits beside her) has just blossomed from watching Kaitlyn work,” Thomas said.

Thomas said she can’t wait to give new assignments because she never knows what to expect from Kaitlyn. “You never know what she’s going to do,” Thomas said. “Her ideas are so original.”

The teacher once gave an assignment to design a shoe and Kaitlyn turned in two products — one was similar to the rest of the classe but the other was much more detailed, including shoe laces made with yarn and glitter. Kaitlyn also smeared marker lines with a wet finger to give the shoe three-dimensionality.

Thomas said another skill that Kaitlyn possesses is speed. “She goes from the idea to having it finished in 10 minutes,” Thomas said. She said most people have to sit and think about what they’re going to draw but Kaitlyn’s ideas are spontaneous.

Thomas said Kaitlyn will stop one project and start another if a better idea pops in her head. The fact that Kaitlyn is deaf is also remarkable, Thomas said. “It’s just fascinating her being able to do that without anyone being able to tell her,” Thomas said.

Kaitlyn, with straight brown hair to her waist, taps her purple sneakers, waiting for Thomas to sharpen a colored pencil for her. For her, creating art is soothing, she said through her interpreter, Melody Fitzgerald.

She likes dolphins simply because they’re pretty, she said. She and her father, Donald, took a trip to the coast last fall and she got to see dolphins for the first time. She’s planning a trip to Sea World this summer.

Kaitlyn’s mother, Jackie, died last May, so it’s just her, her father and grandmother. She said she’s been drawing since she was 8 or 9 years old. Her bedroom walls and even the ceiling used to be covered in her artwork. She had to take them all down, so her room could be painted. Now her pictures are neatly kept in a folder.

Kaitlyn said she knows other people enjoy her artwork but she can’t explain what sets it apart from the other students. “I know how to do the shadows and highlight,” she says modestly. She can’t explain what it is about drawing that she loves. She shrugs her shoulders and seems to think of an answer. “I just do,” she said.

Kaitlyn has several pieces on display at the Longview Public Library.



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