Art of Healing: Jacksonville Middle School Students Put Their Hearts Into Memorial to Texas Shooting Victims

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Jacksonville Middle School art students channeled their emotions into their artwork, thanks to an impromptu class assignment by Professor Adam Cisne.

“After seeing what happened in Texas, I was super disappointed that our country is still in this position,” Cisne said of Tuesday’s mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, during which an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.

Cisne, who is finishing his freshman year at JMS but has worked for Jacksonville School District 117 for a decade, said the Uvalde shooting hit near his home.


“I just taught fourth graders last year,” he said.

As a teacher, the shooting also made him reflect on how school safety protocols have changed, with police in schools and active shooter training for school staff.

“It’s kind of in the back of your head all the time,” he said. “I don’t know about the others, but it’s always on my mind, to be ready for something crazy.”

When Cisne took to social media and found many posts about people’s sadness over the shooting, he decided he wanted to do something more positive, he said.

That’s where his students – sixth, seventh and eighth graders “all mixed together” in five art classes spread throughout the school day – came in.

“I showed examples of different hearts, something simple that they could all draw,” he said, noting that they were working in oil pastel, which they had used earlier in the year.

The instructions were simple:

“Just one heart,” Cisne said. “If they wanted to add more, they could, but I gave them a lot of freedom (in the design) and complete freedom on their color palette. I just let them go. They went to town with the pastels .

Cisne also participated, researching a map of Texas and sketching it as the centerpiece of the art, with a heart noting Uvalde’s location in the state.

“Each of my students has completed at least one heart,” he said. “I swiped them all over the state. It was cool to watch him grow. I saw children (Thursday) passing by, trying to find their hearts.

Students were also not allowed to use any words, letters or numbers in their heart designs, he said.

“Just pictures,” he said. “An image can be very powerful.”

Cisne students already knew this, as they discussed it when the start of term roughly coincided with the start of the war in Ukraine, and Ukrainian artists and others created memorable art as a form of resistance, a he declared.

Although this project is rooted in sadness, what came out of it was overwhelmingly positive, Cisne said.

“They were excited about the project,” he said. “I love collaborative projects, I love being a small part of a bigger thing. And we did it in one day. I wanted to get an answer (to the shot) quickly. He got a lot positive feedback.”

Friday was the last day of class for JMS students, but Cisne is not yet ready to dismantle the mural. It is displayed on a bulletin board in the hallway of the school housing the elective classrooms, where most pupils are likely to take it at least once a day, he said.

“Some students were asking if they could get their hearts back,” he said, noting that he told them, “No, it’s going to stay for a while.”

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