By NICOLE THOMAS
For the Daily News
Starkville School District’s Parent of the Year Susan Ford is a talented artist, and she believes her talent was meant to be shared, especially with children.
While her daughter is learning how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly in Dell Mitchell’s kindergarten classroom, Ford is volunteering as an art teacher for the Art Partners program that she founded to help children express themselves and develop their own artistic talents.
Many of the students participating in the program are experiencing difficulties at home or at school, and they have not yet learned to express themselves with words. Art therapy allows them to express themselves through the creative process of making art.
“Art Partners targets students with academic, social and domestic challenges, who also have a special talent or interest in art,” Ford said. “Students who participate in the program experiment with charcoal and watercolors while also learning some basic art history.”
Ford first volunteered to share her artistic ability with a student when a teacher contacted her about a student who was really struggling. After only a few months, Ford realized there were many students who could benefit from having an art partner.
“The first student I worked with progressed so much in such a short time,” Ford said. “He submitted his portfolio to the Starkville School District’s visual arts program for the artistically gifted, and he was selected for program.”
An active member of the Starkville Area Arts Council (SAAC), Ford worked with the organization to launch Art Partners and expand the program to 12 children. A year later, Ford, again desired to reach more children and through the SAAC decided to seek a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission. The SAAC selected Art Partners as a recipient and awarded Susan $5,000 for the program.
“I went from a budget of $200 to a budget of $5,000, which presented an incredible opportunity,” Ford said. “I approached Mrs. Thompson about implementing the program at Sudduth Elementary School, and she was so enthusiastic. Now the program is offered in grades k through 4, and teachers nominate students who have an interest in art but would otherwise not have access to private art lessons.”
Ford says the grant allowed her to recruit three other professional artists to work with students to help them develop their talent.
Sudduth Elementary School Principal Lisa Thompson says Ford’s work is evident in the faces of the children involved in the art program.
“Just this week, I passed a young man as he was returning to class with his artwork, and he held his picture up so that I could see it as he grinned from ear to ear,” Thompson said. “He had such joy on his face.
“At a time when financial resources are limited, this is a program that Sudduth could never afford to offer our students who need it the most,” Thompson said. “Because of Susan’s willingness to share her talent, students in the Art Partners program are learning to resolve issues, manage behaviors, share feelings, and most importantly, to be proud of themselves and their work,” added Thompson.
“Susan has combined two passions: her love of the arts and her desire to help the Starkville School District respond to the needs of our students,” Superintendent Judy Couey said. “Her volunteer spirit is representative of each of the nominees for Parent of the Year, and Starkville is fortunate to have all of them.”
When she is not volunteering her time as an artist, Ford is actively involved in the Sudduth PTA and the Starkville Junior Auxillary.
Ford’s daughter Harper is a kindergarten student at Sudduth Elementary School, and her three year old, Anna Wyatt, is already looking forward to following her big sister to big school. Susan is married to Bill Ford.