It was an ordinary assignment in Bryan Hill’s art room at Mary B. Neal Elementary School. Last year, Hill, a veteran teacher with District of Columbia Public Schools, was new to Charles County Public Schools and wanted to get a reading on his new students and their level of art skills.

The assignment was draw a toucan. Fourth graders watched a video on the birds, looked at photographs of the animals with the distinctive bills and talked about Toucan Sam, the Fruit Loops mascot.

Samantha Jensen, now a fifth grader, got to work. On a piece of construction paper, she used oil pastels to draw a toucan set against a colorful, abstract background. The reserved and quiet student created a bold, vibrant piece.

“You can express your imagination, what’s on your mind,” Jensen said about art. “Samantha is very, very quiet, so when she was working, I was like ‘What’s she doing over there?’” Hill said. “Then it’s these big, bold, beautiful colors. I’m like, ‘OK.’”

It was eye catching enough that Hill submitted it to Davis Publications, a leading international company focused on art education for students in kindergarten through 12thgrade. Davis produces a planner each year featuring artwork created by grade school students. Jensen’s toucan was selected to be featured on the back cover of the planner.  “I was really surprised,” Jensen said. “I was really happy people appreciated my work.”

All students in first through fifth grades take art in CCPS elementary schools. It’s around the middle of first grade when Hill can spot those with innate artistic ability and others he can teach techniques to make them better artists.

“[Art] allows you to think beyond the written word,” Hill said. “When they say a picture is worth a 1,000 words, it’s true. It’s another communication tool.”

Jensen said her older sister Christina, an eighth grader at Milton M. Somers Middle School, is also an artist who helps her on projects. She has several sketchbooks, always one within arm’s reach. Right now she enjoys drawing people in pencil. “I like doing shading,” Jensen said. “And people … they’re like so delicate to draw.”

Jensen appreciates that art means something different to everyone. “We are all assigned to the same topic, but you have to think outside the box,” she said. “We all have to create our own masterpiece.”

About CCPS

Charles County Public Schools provides 26,900 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.