Blind students paint rocks

Sinclaire Sparkman • Updated Sep 8, 2017 at 9:00 AM

One teacher at the Tennessee School for the Blind recently used a trending craft project to exercise her students’ creative skills. 

Heather Gilliam, of Lebanon, teaches art and technology classes at the school in Donelson. She found the rock painting idea when one of her fellow teachers asked if she had seen the 615 Rocks Facebook page. 

“We use a lot of tactile touch with the students,” Gilliam said. “I outline anything with lines with hot glue and puffy paint so they can touch it.” 

Gilliam will set out the supplies students may need like paint brushes and bowls for the paint, and the students choose their rock size, what colors to use and the design for their rocks. Individual students have different needs and levels of impairment, and all are encouraged to do things independently.

Students that are fully visually impaired will feel for the bowls of paint and paint by feeling the rock with one hand and painting with the other. Other sensory issues are common, and each student finds a way to create art regardless. 

“Their visual impairments do not slow them down at all. You would be surprised at how much they can do and how determined they are,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam has taught at TSB for two years. She previously worked in Sumner county teaching computer classes, and is also familiar with providing for special needs individuals because her son is autistic.

“There’s no way you can do this job without patience and a sense of humor,” Gilliam said. “You have to know your students and work with them. It’s rewarding for everyone involved.”

Some students live on campus, while others come in cars or busses each day. The school offers all levels of education with some work-study and employment programs also available. 

After students paint the rocks, Gilliam either hides them for others to find or holds on to them to place them in the school’s art shows. TSB art shows can range in location from the library at the school to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. 

Gilliam uses the 615 Rocks Facebook page to share the rocks painted by her students, and she has hidden them in places like Don Fox Park and at the Wilson County Fair. The page allows those interested in the trend to see examples of other painted rocks, see those that have been found and let people know where rocks are hidden. The founding principle or idea for the group is for people to paint rocks, hide them, others find them and either keep them or hide them again. 

There are many other rock-painting pages in the country, including some for Florida, Arizona, Nevada and other parts of Tennessee.

Gilliam gets her rocks from either her front yard or her uncle’s property in Lebanon. 

“I checked Lowe’s and Home Depot and I didn’t like the sizes, and these are the perfect size for them,” Gilliam said.

Rocks painted by TSB students have made their way to Dickson, Fairview, Mt. Juliet and other parts of Tennessee.

For more information about the Tennessee School for the Blind, visit tsbtigers.org.

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