Retired Newark teacher wanted to help in wake of coronavirus. Now she’s teaching a Facebook Live art class.

Posted Apr 05, 2020

Cynthia Caldwell said she felt the urgency to do something.

It wasn’t enough to just help out her four children and 16 grandchildren aged 19 to 3, many now shut-in because of the coronavirus emergency in the state. She was first in line nearly three weeks ago in Cherry Hill to pick up Chromebooks laptops for her four of her grandchildren.

But the retired Newark public school art teacher wanted to do more. That’s when she hatched the idea of a virtual art class on Facebook Live.

Never mind that she had never done a Facebook Live post or had any idea how to do it. She was a teacher and there were children in her home and far beyond who needed to be taught.

“I want them to learn how to do basic drawing,” said Caldwell, 65, who lives with one of her daughters and her husband and 4 of her grandchildren in Cherry Hill. “Pencil and paper, I keep it simple. I don’t want their parents to have to go out and find a sketch book when they can’t even find toilet paper.”

Her sons-in-law gave her a crash course in Facebook live and Caldwell was off.

“It is what it is,” she said. “I can’t get stressed out. I prayed about it. I just decided to be who I am. Some people don’t want the extra, extra. They just want the real thing.”

Her first broadcasts were Tuesday and Thursday of last week. She plans to continue at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.

Caldwell said she is still figuring out the right lighting and camera position and how to respond to real-time viewers. But she said the reviews in her debut week were good.

“This was amazing,” Donna Mosley wrote on a comment after Thursday’s broadcast. “I had no idea that you were an artist and so very skilled. What a great teacher! This relaxed me and took my mind off of the world’s problems. I watched twice because I love seeing the creative process.”

The compliments are nice but Caldwell said she has a simple goal.

“I just teach,” she said “I don’t take time and get caught up if they don’t respond immediately. I have years of working with children. I tell them don’t get caught up in mistakes, just create. Sometimes they think they are making a mistake. I tell them there are no mistakes in art.”

Caldwell said she relies on her 30 years of experience as a teacher to plan her lessons. She starts with an “ice breaker.”

“I ask them to draw their favorite cartoon character,” she said. “Then on Thursday, we started with portraits, drawing eyes, noses, ears. We keep it very basic.”

Caldwell has stayed connected with her former students and their parents since her days as a teacher. Even though she didn’t know much about Facebook Live she did have hundreds of friends on Facebook. So when she posted a message about her new art class, it resonated.

“I thought it was pretty cool, especially for the young people,” said Dominique Wilson, 35, who had Caldwell as an art teacher in 1998 at the former Vailsburg Middle School in Newark and had stayed in touch since. “It inspired me to bring out my old sketchbook.”

Wilson went on to Arts High School and continued to study fine art. She now lives in Willingboro and works in banking, but saw Caldwell’s post on Facebook. She said she ended up holding a virtual viewing party with nearly a dozen of her friends for Caldwell’s premiere.

“I remember doing the characters and drawing ears and noses,” she said. “Having her as a teacher not only helped me grow artistically, it helped me grow spiritually. She helped keep a safe bubble in her class and when you came to her class you knew you were protected and going to learn something.”

New Jersey now has 917 deaths from the coronavirus with 37,505 cases statewide, another increase of 3,482 positive tests, according to the latest numbers released Sunday.

The update includes 71 additional deaths. A total of 44,661 have tested negative for the coronavirus.

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