It’s the end of the school year, and students are busy scribbling messages of love and well-wishes for the summer in their classmates’ yearbooks.
A teacher in Wichita, Kansas, took the tradition to the next level Tuesday when she had her entire kindergarten class sign and decorate her dress with bright, colorful fabric markers.
“I got a new dress I let them draw and express themselves through it,” Ashley Hicks, 35, told ABC’s Good Morning America” of the unique end-of-year project. “All of the pictures are kind of unique, it expresses who they are.”
Hicks, who teaches at Enterprise Elementary School, donned the custom dress on her final day with her kindergarten students. She posted pictures of herself in the wearable work of art, which featured vibrant drawings of rainbows, stick figures, and towering green trees.
“Kinder Class 2018-19” was also written on the back on large, blue letters.
The photos of Hicks went viral, and it wasn’t long before the schoolteacher (who moonlights as a bakery shop owner) was making national headlines for her creative end-of-year fashion.
“They absolutely loved it,” Hicks said of her students. “And it was kind of like a writing activity, too.”
“It was kind of hard stopping them from drawing on it,” she added.
Hicks said her idea for the project came when she was cleaning out her closet and stumbled upon an old white dress she was trying to get rid of. She remembered her time in high school when she wore a white shirt to school so all her classmates could sign it, and figured why not revive the tradition for her young students?
Hicks teaches a class of 17 5- and 6-year-olds, many of whom are considered “high trauma” students. The designation refers to kids who have behavioral issues and “kids who have been through things,” like the loss of a relative or time in foster care.
“Academics is important,” she told Inside Edition in an interview. “But with school shootings and suicides, students need to know how to regulate themselves, how to talk about things they’re feeling,” she explained. “Our staff is very dedicated to helping students.”
At the end of each year, the longtime teacher assembles little “survival kits” for each of her kids based on supplies she collects throughout the year, including bottled water and toothbrushes. Processing emotions like anger, sadness and grief can be tough for young children, and Hicks said she was looking to offer her students a little encouragement.
“They’ve been through so much,” she said.
Watch more in the video below.