An Interview with Melissa De Jesus, Groton’s Newest Art Teacher


Ms. De Jesus sits down with us in the early morning, willing to spend a few minutes of her day
with third formers who have absolutely no idea how to hold a proper interview. As we mumble
through our questions she answers thoroughly, and is genuinely pleased to be with us. She is
excited and nervous, her childlike joy on full display when she talks about her craft. It is a
privilege and honor for us to welcome Ms. De Jesus to the circle.


Who​ ​inspires​ ​you​ ​in​ ​your​ ​art?

I have been drawing my whole life, and it has always been something that I have been drawn to. I had an amazing art teacher my senior year in high school, who was very engaging. She gave the students freedom to explore multiple mediums and materials and allowed us to make our own discoveries. She is who really inspired me to stick with art.


How​ ​has​ ​art​ ​influenced​ ​you?

As a first generation Dominican-American I grew up not speaking English, in a household where we only spoke Spanish. I had a hard time adjusting to American culture, especially in my elementary school, which was not very diverse and I was typically the only Hispanic student in a classroom. Art really gave me a voice and helped me build the confidence I needed to be able to survive in that environment.


What​ ​do​ ​you​ ​enjoy​ ​doing​ ​in​ ​your​ ​free​ ​time?

I love going to museums because I enjoy learning about new artists and being inspired by their works, which help me develop my own ideas. I also enjoy working on my own pieces. I grew up drawing and painting, but enjoy exploring other mediums like clay and fabrics. As an artist, I am inspired by my culture and my experiences living in America. Being that my family is from the Dominican Republic, I have felt the tensions between my bicultural backgrounds, and so I like to touch on that multicultural divide. I also believe it is important as an educator to reflect on the injustices that exist within the education system and how these injustices have affected me personally.


What​ ​was your experience teaching at your​ ​previous​ ​school?

I served as the art teacher for the Middle School Student Success Center’s Portfolio Preparation Program at a public middle school in Brooklyn and taught seventh and eighth graders. At the school, I worked with students on different still life, self-portrait, and life study projects that emphasized the importance of “seeing” and creating art from observation. Other projects focused on the students’ imagination and showcasing their ability to understand value, line and color. We worked in different mediums such as colored pencils, magazine paper, colored paper, graphite, and oil pastels.


What​ ​did​ ​you​ ​learn​ ​from​ ​working​ ​there?

I discovered that many students approach art with the idea that they can’t draw. However, this notion quickly changes when they come to the class. The more you practice, the more you develop your skills. Although many students did not have artistic backgrounds, they progressed quickly through the year. It was amazing to witness the students’ work improve over the course of the program.


How​ ​do​ ​you​ ​plan​ ​to​ ​integrate​ ​your​ ​experience​ ​in​ ​your​ ​old​ ​school​ ​to​ ​the​ ​art​ ​curriculum here?

Freedom of self-expression is perhaps one of the most important yet neglected freedoms afforded to our youth today, transcending all races, cultures, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds. To this end, my students in Brooklyn share similar struggles to students here at Groton in that their ability to express themselves is often stifled by society’s expectations, responsibilities, and the like. My objective as an art educator here at Groton is to help all students find their voice and express themselves fully through art so that they may think freely, explore freely, and express freely.


What​ ​direction​ ​would you like Groton’s​ ​art​ ​curriculum​ ​to​ ​advance​ ​in?

I would like to incorporate more technology in the art room. I believe that tech and art go hand in hand, especially when speaking of design. I would like to introduce more design into the art curriculum and perhaps collaborate with the Fab Lab.


How​ ​has​ ​teaching​ ​in​ ​Groton​ ​been​ ​for​ ​you​ ​so​ ​far?

It has been great. Everyone has been very welcoming. The students are nice, and everyone is excited to learn. The school environment at Groton is different from the school I taught at. Here I have my own classroom and much needed resources, which really make a difference and allow us to do more in the art classroom.


Do you have a message to Groton students?

I want students to change their preconceived notions of art; it’s not just about making realistic or beautiful drawings and paintings. I want the art room to be a place where students can talk about important social and political issues through their work. I want the art experience to represent more than just drawing and painting.