The student-run news site of Lawrence Free State High School

Free Press Online

The student-run news site of Lawrence Free State High School

Free Press Online

The student-run news site of Lawrence Free State High School

Free Press Online

Archived photo from Chloe Cook
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NEWS: Senior Slump
The NBAs viewership has declined almost 45 percent since the early 2010s.
NEWS: Decline in Viewership
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REVIEW: March Music Mania

FEATURE: Rachel Downs Battling Health Issues While Supporting the Art Program

Rachel Downs keeps art program in motion despite personal health issues
Teacher Rachel Downs advises senior Chloe Mure-Limburg on a water color project in one of Downs art classes.

Throughout USD 497, teachers in various departments are large contributors to student success, and take on sizable chunks of responsibility. AP Art and Design and drawing teacher Rachel Downs is amongst them, helping students to grow in their art skills while simultaneously assuming the role of Head of the Arts Department. 

Downs has continually battled significant health issues during her time in the school. Some of her complications have included kidney cancer, a hysterectomy and related surgeries, mental health struggles and five toe surgeries. 

Despite her various roadblocks, Downs said that she has found ways to help manage the emotions of her health and continue to be the best version of herself in her classroom, impacting the arts in positive ways each day. 

“Certainly with my health, I’ve had to compartmentalize. It’s just a matter of day by day kind of reinventing yourself, so every morning I wake up with a new strategy,” Downs said. 

Through her engaging and welcoming teaching style, students around the school have gathered an interest in the arts. Senior Tea Elliot said that he is thankful for Downs’s class, and appreciates that it is a warm and safe space. 

“She gives us the opportunities that we need to grow as artists. She is a very flexible person, and she can figure out a way to teach any person anything, which I think is very unique. She’s given me community and a place of belonging,” Elliott said. 

Additionally, sophomore Mimi Wood, a member of Downs’s drawing class, mentioned how Downs has fostered her confidence as an artist. 

“I’m not always very good about feeling good about my art. I notice the flaws and I end up not liking my piece. Ms. Downs is always like ‘no, that’s not allowed.’ I start to notice the things that I like about my art, and she’ll tell me ‘build off of that, it’s better.’ She is so supportive and she makes everything so important,” Wood said. 

Downs said she makes it her priority to care for the students’ needs, and wants Free State to know that she is in it to win it. She encourages her students to do what they can with what they have, and to continue to strive for achievement. 

With a full class load, around 180 students, and many responsibilities as Head of the Arts Department, Rachel Downs has done a lot for her school, the district, and students during her 12 year tenure. Through the lens of teaching and the experiences of her health and life, Downs said she has examined her profession in the context of clarity and opportunity. 

“These people are my life — I don’t have biological children, I could never have any physically. So these students are my life. They’re my children, and I refer to them as such. I try to provide for them as much as I can and be a safe space for as many people as I can,” Downs said.

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About the Contributors
Nick Sprecker
Nick Sprecker, Sports Editor
Nick Sprecker is a junior at Free State and is the Sports Editor on staff. Outside of journalism, he is a member of the boys football and soccer program. He is involved in multiple clubs, LINK, and NHS.
Anders Benson
Anders Benson, Photographer
Anders Benson is a sophomore and a photographer for Free State Journalism! He is involved around the school in drumline, choir, and theater. Outside of school, he enjoys singing, playing music, and learning about life.
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