I am a Special Education Teacher with New York City Department of Education, serving students in District 75 with behavior and emotional disabilities in grades 6 through 8. As a teacher of this population, my goal everyday is to focus on my students abilities without including the “dis.” Working with this population is quite difficult on a daily basis, as the students are on different levels with different personalities and specific demands. I know my students very well and it is a trying task to keep them on track, producing successful pieces of work and feeling proud of themselves.
Fortunately, 4 years ago I stumbled upon Tim Kelly and it turned out to be a blessing. My students had a very rewarding experience with Mr. Kelly and his assistants, that left a wonderful and lasting impression on them, as well as our staff.
I first contacted Tim Kelly out of curiosity, because of his creative “puzzling” website. It seemed like an unattainable project for my students. I honestly had my doubts about working with him, thinking I would just borrow some of his ideas and create something similar on my own. It is sometimes difficult to meet the individualized needs of my students, I felt he probably wouldn’t be able to. Through our first conversation, I was immediately captured by Tim’s demeanor and kind nature. Right away I knew this could be a possibility for my students. I didn’t even have to get into detail about the specific needs of my students as Mr. Kelly assured me that he would engage each and every student through this project. Well, to my surprise he did!
Mr. Kelly is a warm spirit. Our experiences with him have always been professional, as well as exciting, educational, interesting, productive and simply fun for all. The work my students created with him seemed to tell a story. Some of my students are introverted/non-verbal and some are (inappropriately) extremely verbal. Mr. Kelly surprisingly met each and every child’s needs in a professional manner without my assistance or background knowledge.
One of my students, Sal, has Asperger’s Syndrome and I knew he wasn’t going to do anything, but had him join us for the social interaction. Tim & Dave of the Puzzle Team sat with Sal and within 10 minutes he had a paintbrush in his hand and was actively engaged. I wanted to ask Mr. Kelly right then and there, “what did you say/do to him?” but I couldn’t, as he was accommodating and inspiring a group of 25+ students. Not to mention the fact that I lost numerous staff members because they wanted to create their own puzzle pieces.
Not long after his understanding of Sal’s needs, I found Mr. Kelly sitting with another student. Danny has behavioral issues and is usually defiant. He does not like to add color to any of his work and is basically cut and dry. Yet, Danny had intentions to participate this day. He was prepared and planned on creating a puzzle in the shape of a heart with a piece missing. Unfortunately, when the atmosphere changed, Danny shut down. Working in a larger environment, not in his classroom of 8 classmates, with so many people around he withdrew. I believe he was afraid to express himself. I made numerous attempts to inspire him. I have a wonderful bond with Danny, but I could not seem to convince or even bribe him with an incentive. No longer than 5 minutes went by when Mr. Kelly did it again. He had Danny smiling and creating his beautiful creative heart, adding color with the missing piece that closed the gap in the heart making it a “Happy Heart”. This is what these kids need!
Tim Kelly is an inspiration. He went beyond creating art with my students. He encouraged these young adults to not only create something, but to create something meaningful to them. This was done successfully while meeting the many needs of my students, as well as State Standards. I have been in education over 15 years and have had countless interactions with Art Educators and trip facilitators from local museums, including renowned Museums, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art. I can honestly say that my students have never been more actively engaged and proud of their work as they were working with Mr. Kelly and the Puzzle Team.
Rhonda Tasca, Special Education Teacher, R025 South Richmond IS/HS