Benny the Bacteria: using art to dispel fear

”Bird Flu.” “Swine Flu.” Back in 2011, these words struck terror in the hearts of school administrators, and other public institutions, nationwide.


Suddenly hand sanitizers were everywhere. School principals’ new raison d’être was insuring that their staff and students would be forever germ free!


Sadly in some schools the terror felt by the adults spread like an epidemic through populations of kids. One day they felt no fear; on the next, they thought every surface in the school teemed with lethal bacteria. Kids would refuse to use door handles, potty handles, sink handles. There was much gnashing of teeth. . .  and fountains of tears. The little ones were terrified of dying from one of the double scourges.


Fortunately we ran across an art teacher who had the magic touch in her kiddy kingdom. Through it all she remained calm, gentle, and effective. Fortunately she was also an accomplished organic gardener and knew her bacteria! Especially all the “good ones.”  She quickly developed a 2nd grade lesson using watercolors to overcome the children’s terror.


“There are many kinds of bacteria in the world”, said Ms. Degenhardt. “Good and bad ones. And some are very, very beautiful. We’re going to make Portraits of Good Bacteria! The ones that help our tummies turn peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into fuel for our blood and muscles. The ones that live in the ground and help seeds to sprout and grow strong in rich, brown earth.”


As a result her kids made an amazing collection of vibrant watercolors, using photographs of bacteria and an actual peek through a microscope lens. Once they got to know that all bacteria would not kill them, they relaxed and had fun with the ones that were silly and pretty….and that worked hard to keep our world safe.


Well done, Ms. Degenhardt.  Brilliant, kids!