For award-winning South Summit educator, teaching is an art
Stephanie Clegg named 2017 Utah Art Educator of the Year
For many people, winning an elementary school poster competition in first grade is not an achievement that would linger into adulthood. For Stephanie Clegg, though, it changed the course of her life.
“That recognition that I had talent piqued my interest in art,” she said. “Prior to that, I always doodled and colored, but that was the first time someone told me I was good at this.”
That realization — and a later discovery that she enjoyed fostering creativity in others just as much as creating her own artwork — shaped her future, leading her to become an art teacher. And in that role, she recently won an award that carries a bit more heft than her poster triumph in first grade.
The National Art Education Association named Clegg, who has taught at her alma mater South Summit High School since 2011, the 2017 Utah Art Educator of the Year. She was given the award at a ceremony last week in St. George and said it was a thrill to receive the honor.”
“It was exciting,” said Clegg, who is also the treasurer of the Utah Art Education Association and served as its president three years ago. “It was rewarding that people recognized the work that I’ve done and that they thanked me for it. It was a nice feeling.”
For Clegg, the award was especially meaningful because she’s built her career on helping open the world of art to students and showing them how they fit into it. She said she knew she wanted to have a career in art even as a child but later decided to become a teacher because she wanted to share her love of art with others.
Watching countless students flourish has reaffirmed her choice on nearly a daily basis. She hopes they will carry the lessons they learn in her classroom with them throughout their lives.
“I don’t always necessarily have an emotional connection to my work because I’m very realistic and do it by observation,” she said. “But I like that students can find connection to art emotionally and find a place where they fit when they don’t always fit in the traditional education system. Everyone can find some piece of it that they are good at.”
Some students have even entered Clegg’s class with no formal instruction but had natural talent that allowed them to quickly progress beyond what she was teaching them. Watching them harness their skills and continue exploring art after graduating high school has been encouraging.
“It’s cool to see where they have gone since high school and what they’re working on and that they’re still working in the arts,” said Clegg. “It’s amazing, is basically the word I would use.”
Clegg, who is teaching two photography classes this semester — and also serves as the school’s career and technical education director — said she’s taught “every visual arts class that exists” throughout her career. She enjoys them all for different reasons, but drawing and painting courses are the most rewarding because they allow her to pull out a pencil or a paintbrush and make art alongside her students.
“That’s really my only outlet because life is so hectic,” she said. “So I love that part of it. But now photography is my life, so I love that and that students are able to create incredible works and understand that they can do simple things to make art.”
As well as her work in the classroom, Clegg has drawn satisfaction from her involvement with the Utah Art Education Association. She attended the organization’s conferences when she taught in the Jordan School District, but it wasn’t until she joined the South Summit staff that she joined it in a formal role.
Within a few years, she was the association’s president and still remains active as its treasurer and registrar. During her time with the organization, her responsibilities have ranged from helping craft state art education standards to showing newer teachers the ropes.
The latter taps into the reason she became an educator in the first place — to teach and guide others.
“I think that’s probably the most rewarding part, is helping other art teachers,” she said. “Whether it’s helping put on conferences and that kind of thing or mentoring teachers and walking them through the steps, giving them ideas and showing them things that are out there for them, it’s been great.”
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