Suburban students coping with COVID-19 social isolation through art

Olivia Williams dreams of brighter days ahead.

She didn't expect the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine and distancing from classmates to last as long as it has. She misses seeing friends every day and getting hugs from grandma, who lives in an active adult community in Mundelein.

Olivia turned to journaling, taking long walks, and drawing to lift her spirits.

"I wanted something to look forward to," the 13-year-old seventh-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Mundelein said of her artwork depicting mirror versions of a building in black and white and a rainbow of colors. "I just thought I should create a piece that expressed that it will all get better soon. We all just, like, try to make the best out of it."

Some suburban students are coping with the social isolation through art as a release for bottled emotions.

A still life shaded with pencil by Kate Shugarts, 14, of Grayslake, an eighth-grader at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee. Courtesy of Kelly Eggleston

"It's very therapeutic," said Kelly Eggleston, an art teacher at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee. "I encouraged them to create artwork for themselves. It kind of breaks up the monotony of every day. Being stuck at home is the hardest part of the quarantine."

Rachel Saladin, 15, of Fremd High School in Palatine, misses being able to touch others due to social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It inspired her to recreate "The Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo. Courtesy of Naomi Saladin

Touching others, holding hands and physical proximity with others are what Rachel Saladin misses the most about pre-pandemic life.

It inspired the 15-year-old sophomore at Fremd High School in Palatine to draw her own version of "The Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo.

"I felt like it was a depiction of what (people) long for during this tough time," Rachel said. "It demonstrates loss, but also a sense of hope as well. The fingers are almost touching. We are so close, yet so far."

A drawing inspired by "The Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo and the COVID-19 pandemic by Rachel Saladin, 15, of Fremd High School in Palatine. Courtesy of Naomi Saladin

Rachel set aside her hobby of drawing because high school was demanding, but the quarantine gave her an opportunity to dive back into it and express herself.

"It always calmed me down in hard times," she said. "It's really stressful for a lot of people at the moment. It really helped me get peace of mind."

Michelle Patch, an art teacher at Deer Path Middle School in Lake Forest, said the pandemic was affecting her and her own children, which prompted Patch to engage students in a coronavirus-inspired art project this spring.

Bolurin Taiwo, 14, an eighth-grader at Deer Path Middle School in Lake Forest, drew NBA legend Michael Jordan wearing a mask while performing one of his iconic dunks with a basketball resembling coronavirus. "My artwork was inspired by my passion for basketball, as well as my dad and all doctors." Courtesy of Michelle Patch

"When I teach, even in the classroom, I try to make their projects relatable to what they are going through, what's happening in the world," Patch said. "It's important that kids learn how to make their voice heard, and I think art is the perfect medium for that."

Some students expressed how they were feeling, while others used their artwork to make a social statement about battling an invisible disease and patriotism.

"It's interesting to see the different angles that the kids were coming from," Patch said. "It's hard to engage kids virtually ... I wanted to highlight the ones that really truly put thought and emotion into their work."

COVID-19-inspired artwork by Kyla Leman, 12, a sixth-grader at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia. Courtesy of Leah Leman

Spending hours journaling various forms of art helps 12-year-old Kyla Leman, a sixth-grader at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia, let loose her emotions.

"She is an expressive person, but she didn't want to express in words why she was feeling what she was feeling," said her mother, Leah Leman, of Batavia. "Some kids are very verbal, but my children aren't. They don't process their thoughts and feelings out loud very often."

For 71 consecutive days, Macaire Everett, 14, of Libertyville has been creating daily chalk art on her family's driveway with her brother Camden as her model. Courtesy of Christine Everett

Helping put a smile on people's faces is what drives Macaire Everett's artwork.

The 14-year-old from Libertyville has been creating chalk art featuring her 9-year-old brother Camden on the family's driveway for 71 consecutive days. Her goal is to reach 100 days.

"I had something to look forward to after school work was done," Macaire said.

Macaire Everett, 14, of Libertyville has been creating daily chalk art on her family's driveway with her brother Camden as her model. She plans to go for 100 days. Courtesy of Christine Everett

The first picture she drew before lockdown - of Camden holding balloons - got washed away by rain so she decided to keep drawing until she could go back to school. But schools never reopened so she shifted her focus to making people happy.

"It brought a lot of joy to my community, neighbors and friends," said Macaire, a soon-to-be freshman at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein. "It brought joy to me and my brother and helped us cope with quarantine."

Macaire Everett, 14, of Libertyville has been creating daily chalk art on her family's driveway with her brother Camden. This week she drew a dove holding an olive branch as a message of peace. Courtesy of Christine Everett

Much of her artwork depicts fun-based activities, such as Camden on a waterslide, kite surfing, jumping off a diving board and bungee jumping, "things that people would be doing this summer but maybe can't," she said.

"He is my muse in every single picture," Macaire said. "He also enjoys it because it inspires others. People tell me that they look forward to this every day."

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