The Brightside: Graphic design teacher uses art therapy to help students

SUSSEX Co., Del. – Kelli Gehrke is a graphic designer, turned teacher, turned teacher of the year.

Gehrke said, “Being a graphic designer who gets to teach other kids graphic design is so rewarding.”

Gehrke has been teaching Graphic Design at Sussex Tech for 8 years now. She was actually working at a design firm when Sussex Tech approached and asked if she could fill in for a few weeks.

Gehrke explained, “I started teaching for 2 weeks, and that became a month because the teacher couldn’t come back. Then she ended up not coming back at all, so I had to decide if I wanted to quit my job as a designer and become a teacher within probably six weeks.”

It didn’t take long for her to make a decision, as she realized she was hooked on teaching. In reality though, there was something deeper in it for Gehrke…the ability to help kids open up and express themselves to others.

“They’ll come in and not even be able to verbally express themselves at all, and then they’re doing their senior projects at the end of the year in front of a bunch of other graphic designers and have no problem speaking, so it’s pretty powerful,” she said.

Gehrke hosts a series of projects to help her kids let their walls down. In one, her high schoolers were tasked with getting others to guess what emotion they were trying to express through art and they couldn’t use any words

“One time I had a young lady who her emotion was terror,” Gehrke said. “By the time that child was a senior, we do this again and she photoshopped herself on top of the world with her arms up in the air and how everything had changed.”

But the creativity doesn’t stop there. Each year, Gehrke also has her seniors write articles about themselves and put themselves on the cover of a magazine. All of this, illustrating just how passionate Gehrke is about helping her students.

“A lot of the time they were dealing with anxiety or panic attacks or depression so I kind of made it my mission to figure out early on what the issues were so I could help them earlier,” Gehrke said.

Beyond teaching, Gehkre leads the gender sexuality alliance at Sussex Tech. She says its surprising how many kids she finds out are struggling with their sexuality and she’s just glad she can help them.

Categories: Brightside, Delaware, Local News