Johnsburg High School special needs student discovers artistic passion during remote learning

While some McHenry County special needs students have been struggling with remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, one Johnsburg High School student has discovered a new creative passion that has already started generating some cash.

Before August, Kailey Annesser, a 17-year-old senior with cerebral palsy who doesn't speak, was never interested in art, her mother Jeanine Annesser said. When she was enrolled into an art class, her mother was skeptical that handing her daughter a blank sheet of paper and some colored pencils would elicit any interest.

"I was like, 'Oh my gosh, she doesn't draw, she doesn't color, she doesn't know the first thing about art really,'" Jeanine Annesser said.

Now, Kailey's parents and her art teacher have hundreds of drawings by her, each a unique collage featuring striking combinations of colors, some of which have already proven to have a bit of commercial appeal.

She colors for hours at a time, and the family was going through half a ream of printer paper in about 10 days, Jeanine Annesser said.

"I have calluses on my hands from sharpening pencils that would make most people ask, 'Why do you have a callous there?'" Kailey's dad Jason Annesser said.

Kailey's art teacher and the Johnsburg High fine arts department chairwoman, Judy Krueger, said Annesser's focus on drawing is unparalleled by any artist's process she has witnessed.

"In my near 30 years of teaching, I've never seen anything like this," Krueger said. "Kailey seems to find a lot of joy in coloring, and I can tell she is releasing frustration at the same time. She hides words and cartoon people and animals in her scribbles. She starts at the outside border of the page and works her way inward like maybe she's trying to bring us inside her world."

The teacher suggested to Jeanine Annesser that she start an online store featuring Kailey's artwork, and now a website on called KA's Colorful Voice features all kinds of items, including clothing, cushions, a bedspread and shower curtains with Kailey's designs printed on them for sale.

As of Friday, eight products had already been sold, Jeanine Annesser said. The money generated through the online business will go toward Kailey and her needs, said her mother, who just opened a checking account for the young artist.

The experience of discovering a new adoration for artistic expression within their daughter has elated Kailey's parents. The couple, whose son and Kailey's twin, Jacob, does not have special needs, said the school's shutdown and transition to remote learning in the spring this year was hard for Kailey.

Both twins, their parents said, have lamented not being able to go to school in person.

Some students and their families have addressed the Johnsburg School District 12 board this fall, calling attention to the difficult time they were having with learning from home after the high school moved back into fully remote education after one, partial week of holding in-person classes at reduced capacities.

Parents of Crystal Lake Elementary District 47 students with special needs last month expressed their displeasure with the lack of in-person school services, and special needs students across the county this fall were reported to be struggling with remote learning during the pandemic, the Northwest Herald.

"During this remote learning, it is extremely difficult to meet the needs of our special needs students, but we are making ambitious efforts to make it work. I have an aide in my class and she takes those with the greatest needs into a breakout room to give differentiated step-by-step instructions," Krueger said.

For Kailey, it was tough not being able to see her friends in the spring and again being pulled from in-person classes this fall, her parents said.

But without remote schooling, Jeanine and Jason Annesser doubt Kailey would have had her penchant for drawing break through this fall.

They encouraged other parents whose special needs children are having a hard time with remote learning to keep trying new things, suggesting that students, parents and teachers be flexible with each other and not to be too hard on themselves while COVID-19 keeps classrooms empty.

"Keep pushing and don't get too frustrated," Jeanine Annesser said.

Some of the drawings done by Johnsburg High School senior Kailey Annesser. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media
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