Adult Basic Education Volunteer Inspires Through Art Classes

Susan Richardson loved art from a young age. She grew up in Chicago and her fondest memory was her mom bringing her on the train for a day trip to the Art Institute. “We had five kids in the family, so it didn’t happen often,” says Richardson. “It was a special outing for my mom and me.” 

Richardson taught special education at Moorhead Area Public schools for 30 years. She now volunteers at Adult Basic Education (ABE). “I wanted to go into art therapy, but at the time an art therapy degree was a new thing,” says Richardson. After her husband accepted a job offer in Moorhead, she changed plans and got a degree in education. “I always knew I wanted to work with kids.” 

After retiring, Richardson wanted to stay involved in education and wanted to incorporate her passion for art. Tammy Schatz, Adult Basic Education program manager, and Richardson partnered to create special art classes at ABE.

“Susan's art sessions were an awe-inspiring mix of creativity, self care and relaxation that provided the adult ed students a new learning opportunity outside of their typical daily textbook lessons,” Schatz says. “Many of these students had never had an art class in their lives, but beamed with pride with their new knowledge of primary/secondary colors, various watercolor techniques, and their created pieces.  It was truly something to behold!”

Richardson and Schatz worked together many years ago and were thrilled to reunite to bring art to ABE students. The classes were a new concept, so Schatz and Richardson worked together to test out different times and schedules. Richardson created experiences where students could draw, paint, collage or color to express themselves. She wanted to teach the basics, while allowing students to create without expectations. “I wanted to teach my students that it’s okay to go for an idea. There isn’t a right way to do something,” says Richardson. “It might not turn out the first, second, third, fourth or fifth time, but you just keep doing it.” 

Through her experience volunteering at ABE, she also realized things that most of us take for granted. “I had students in my class who had never used a scissors before,” says Richardson. She took everything back to the basics and met students where they were at. 

She remembers one student in particular that was a mom with kids at home. The mom wanted to create bookmarks and little paintings for her children. “She would tell me what she wanted each piece of art to say and I would help her spell everything in English,” says Richardson. The art included messages to her daughter, telling her “I love you” and “You’re great.”

Richardson looks forward to the day she can get back into the classroom. For now, classes are on hold due to the pandemic. “I hope in the future, we can expand our idea and collaborate with community art organizations,” says Richardson. She hopes that art instruction can provide students with a relaxing and creative outlet. “I don’t know where I would be without art,” says Richardson. “It’s a calming thing for me.”