Claudia Vallejos, 36, a divorced mother of two, used to describe her 5-year-old son as a lonely child, with very few friends and unwilling to interact with others.
But that all changed when James, 5, found a new interest in art.
“When James comes home, now he says, ‘Mom, I have friends,’ ” Vallejos said. “He looks happy and is enthusiastic about his projects.”
Like him, many children have also learned to cope better in academics and creativity by participating in a project called Art Gallery, implemented by Kids Corner, a children’s development center in Doral.
Each year, the instructors select a different local artist to work directly with the children for three to six months and guide them through the creation of an art piece.
At the end of the period, the kids will have learned about the artist’s technique, copied the piece of their choice and gotten a chance to showcase it in front of their parents, friends and the public at the center’s main art event, where the pieces can be acquired starting at $25.
“James tells me the name and life of the artist, all the way to the color he or she used to paint that piece,” Vallejos said.
The next annual Art Gallery will be held on Friday, March 15, when James will be showcasing his work.
Miami native Charles Anthony Leano, 24, is a local artist chosen this year to share his talent with the kids.
“It’s an amazing experience to get to work with these kids and see their excitement when creating with paint,” said Leano, who first got interested in art in middle school. “I love how they enjoy art and ask questions like I did.”
The idea behind this initiative is that art combines all of the necessary elements for the children to achieve their academic goals: a mix of history, hands-on work and instruction.
“Art is everywhere in life,” said Angela Baxter, assistant director and teacher at the center. “It’s incredible how much they can learn from just mixing colors.”
Baxter, 40 and a mother of two — a 12-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl — has been working at the facility for about 11 years.
“My day consists of children from the moment I wake up until I go to sleep,” she said. “I love children, and my favorites are my 3-year-olds.”
The Kids Corner center opened its doors almost two decades ago. It was owned by the Ryder Corporation until 2008, when it sold the property and the new management team took over.
Since then, one of its missions has been to help teachers achieve the expertise they need by subsidizing their training programs, particularly in the field of early childhood.
“We all know the reality of a teacher’s salary, so our responsibility is to extend them a hand and help them grow,” Baxter said.
But for Sandra Cuesta, 35, a teacher at the center, one of the most important aspects that attracted her to the work there is the emphasis on art in all of its mediums.
“From an artistic point of view, kids can discover that there is so much more than just crayons,” Cuesta said. “They are given the opportunity to shape on a sheet of paper or a canvas the concept they would like to express.”
She said that art is the base point from which children learn the basics and teachers learn to teach.
“We don’t always realize, but as teachers we use art in order to teach forms, shapes and even history,” Cuesta said. “I think of a teacher as an artist because teaching is also an art form.”