by Sue Ann Rybak
David Greene is a hero in a sense. He is one of the reasons J.S. Jenks Elementary School has an art program this year. Because of budget cuts, Jenks no longer has an art teacher on staff, but thanks to volunteers like Greene, a retired Philadelphia school district art teacher, the art program at Jenks continues to flourish.
Greene, who taught for almost 39 years, teaches six classes a day – more than he would teach in a regular school day as a paid teacher. He arrives every Monday and Wednesday around 8 a.m. and leaves around 4 p.m.
“The schedule allows me an opportunity to see everybody K through eighth grade,” said Greene, whose son attends Jenks.
He said he believed that everyone should have “an art experience.” He added that art is something that comes from the heart and that everyone can draw – people just have different abilities.
“When I retired, the principal said I gave too many A’s during my career,” Greene said. “I believe if a child does their best and works from their heart, then they deserve a good grade. You don’t want a child to feel bad because that’s the best they can do.”
He recalled a timid little girl who came into his class earlier this year and announced that she couldn’t draw, but by the end of the semester she gained confidence in herself and her work.
“When parents come to me on back-to-school night and say, ‘Oh, my son or daughter loves your class,’ that’s the greatest reward,” Greene said. “It’s the greatest feeling when a child leaves my class with a smile on his or her face,”
He believes a teacher’s job is to encourage a child.
Greene, who has dyslexia, said he struggled through high school until his art teacher took him under her wing.
“She saw the potential in me not only as an artist but as a person,” Greene said. “To this day, I always say I went to college for what I majored in and I have enjoyed every minute of it.”
Thanks to the Friends of Jenks, the school has money for art supplies. Greene said his students are learning one-point perspective, painting and design work. The eighth-grade class currently is designing a musical CD cover.
He is hoping his former college roommate at the University of California, Johnny Lee, who used to work for Motown Records, comes back East to talk to the kids.
“Most of these kids know about doing drawings or paintings – but they don’t realize that there are many careers in art where you can make a good living, such as graphic arts, advertising, web design and many others,” Greene said.
Besides teaching art, he tries to teach kids critical thinking skills.
“Unfortunately, a lot of Philadelphia school kids have trouble with critical thinking,” Greene said. “Many teachers teach them for the test. I ask them riddles to make them think.”
He gave examples:
Question – “You’re in a marathon race. It’s hot and you’re tired. You pass the person who is in second place. What place are you in? Answer – Second.”
“Sometimes, the riddles don’t make sense,” Greene said.
Question – “If there is an airplane crash between Canada and the United States, where do you bury the 10 survivors? Answer – You don’t bury survivors.”
Greene said it is a joy to be part of such a caring staff. He said the teachers and staff at Jenks are dedicated.
“Jenks is an excellent school, but unfortunately it doesn’t have all the material things that private schools have because of budget cuts, but the teachers and the students make Jenks a great school,” he said.
Greene added that it was a joy to teach his son Daniel.
“I want to make an imprint on my son so he will know who I am,” Greene said.
Who is Greene? Students and Teachers at Jenks might say he is the man with art in his heart – a man who willingly volunteers his time and knowledge to make a difference in a child’s life … and a man any child would be proud of.