Wendy Lang is a longtime elementary school educator in Decatur, AL. She left the classroom a year ago and went to work for the Alabama Education Association.
In 2016 she was nominated for Carnegie Carnival Mardi Gras Queen, a fund-raising event for he Carnegie Visual Arts Center. She shares the wonderful story of why she was happy to participate. In this day when all we seem to hear about is data and test scores, it is a wonderful reminder that the education experience is so much, much more.
He was small for his age. He was immature and yet showed signs of struggles of which only adults are aware. Skinny with two constantly skinned knees, academics didn’t come easy to him; neither did the ability to sit still. His pale complexion only accented the dirt crusted on his face and hands each day. He often wore shorts in the dead of winter and his shirts were always torn and tattered. He was in desperate need of a ‘touch,’ yet I was unaware of just what I could do to give him the encouragement that he needed to establish the self-confidence necessary to find one brief, rare ray of light in the darkened tunnel of his life.At five, he appeared to have already given up. There were times when I felt the same.He couldn’t write his first name, couldn’t count to ten or recognize the letters of the alphabet. A severe speech impediment kept him from being easily understood. Lunch was the only subject where he seemed to excel but that was because he appeared hungry and I wonder if it ever crossed his mind just where his next meal might come from.He did enjoy his art class when it was available. Our school shared an art teacher with two other schools and he looked forward to his time with Mrs. Young. During the spring, students were chosen to participate in an art contest at the Carnegie Visual Art Center. Every school in Decatur and Morgan County was represented by their stellar art students. It was quite the honor.Parents were asked to bring their children to a special presentation that would honor them. It included a reception, gallery viewing, refreshments and local dignitaries. Following the introduction of students, art teachers and government officials and VIPs, they would announce the winners in each category as overall winners.Invitations were sent out to parents and, low and behold, a piece of his artwork had been slated as a “best” at our school and he was beside himself. His mother got the invitation, but she really couldn’t spare the time to attend. After all, it wasn’t anything important, she told me. Both Mrs. Young, our art teacher, and I tried repeatedly to impress upon the mother just what an honor it was and how excited he was. His eyes lit up after I was able to get across to him what refreshments were.On the day of the big event, he hung his head because his mother couldn’t come. That meant he couldn’t come either. I don’t know who was more heartbroken, him or me. I had dressed relatively nice for school that day in order to attend the Art Showing. I decided at the last minute to go on ahead just in case. After all, miracles do happen!Prior to walking in, I stopped to talk to some fellow educators. After our conversation, I headed in with my head, low and my spirits even lower. As I walked in the entrance, I suddenly heard a little voice, “Mii Ang…Mii Ang…..ookies mmmmm!”There he was, tattered shirt, soiled shoes, dirty face and hands, and the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. He ran into my arms and I hugged him with just as much force as he hugged me. Together we walked hand in hand inside to the exhibits and found his offering. He stood there the entire afternoon with the biggest grin on his face.Friends of mine stopped to say hello. He shook hands, greeted people, grinned and laughed; he was a totally different child than I had ever seen before. I was ecstatic.What he received that day was far more than cookies or a trip downtown or even his artist rendering matted for display. From that moment on, he became somebody. He had a sense of accomplishment and belonging in a place where he struggled to fit in on a daily basis. He was more than a winner; he was a child after God’s own heart; a masterpiece of grand proportions.Every March, the Carnegie Visual Art Center in conjunction with the Alabama Center for the Arts celebrates Youth Art Month in order to bring awareness to the value of art education and to encourage and support these programs as well as the youth that are served by such programs. Why the Carnegie? While the Carnegie is responsible for a good many things in and among this community, they have made a difference in the life of a child. That makes all the difference to me.