Among all of the special policies regarding COVID-19 and learning at Highland High School, the school was able to welcome a few new faces to the building for the school year. One of these new faces was art instructor Sara Sjoquist.
Although this is her first year at Highland, Sjoquist was always on a path toward teaching. She originally taught English as a second language (ESL) after college and fell in love with teaching during that time.
“I knew I would feel most fulfilled in a classroom interacting with students,” Sjoquist said.
When it came to teaching art in particular, it was an obvious choice for Sjoquist.
“Art has always been a passion of mine, so now I get to mold together my two favorite things here at Highland,” Sjoquist said.
By teaching art, Sjoquist knows she can make an impact on her students.
“I like the idea of sharing my passion of art with others and being a positive influence on their lives,” Sjoquist said.
Using art as a way to encourage students is something she enjoys doing. She finds art to be both motivating and therapeutic, allowing her to avoid teaching any rules or boundaries for students to fit into. Art is a universal thing that anyone can enjoy regardless of their skill level.
“You don’t have to be a great artist to appreciate the influence art can have on society or the individual,” Sjoquist said.
As an art teacher, Sjoquist knows how to perform her role in a way that sets her students up for success. This means giving her students the tools and techniques they need to express their creativity. She appreciates seeing the different ways students interpret information and use art to illustrate those different perspectives.
Being supportive of students is an important aspect of teaching, which Sjoquist knows well. For her, teaching is about much more than simply showing students how art works; it is also about guiding them to find what they care about.
“The most rewarding thing about being a teacher is knowing you can be that adult in a student’s life that listened to them,” Sjoquist said. “I hope I can inspire a love of art in what I do as well, but my ultimate goal is to just be a positive influence.”
Despite this being her first year of teaching at the high school, Sjoquist is familiar with Highland. She especially appreciates being close to where her kids are attending as well.
“I grew up in Indiana, and my kids are in the Highland school system, so I’ve always loved it here,” Sjoquist said. “Working in the same school system my kids are in makes life easier, and I feel like I’m more aware of what they are growing up in.”
She was used to working with younger people early on in her life. Seeing students grow as both artists and as people is a very rewarding part of the job for Sjoquist.
“I got into teaching when I worked as a counselor in college doing summer camps,” Sjoquist said. “Watching young adults grow into themselves is an amazing thing to witness and be a part of. I enjoy investing in people.”
The COVID-19 crisis has caused a whole slew of problems for all teachers and students, but when it comes to art classes, there a whole new set of unique challenges to face.
Highland High School is doing hybrid classes with students being able to opt for either in-person learning or online learning. Sjoquist must split her time between the two sets of students in order to teach fairly and effectively.
“To me, the hardest aspect of teaching during COVID-19 is the split between online and in-person classes,” Sjoquist said.
Although the pandemic definitely makes things harder, Sjoquist is willing to work through it.
“I have always been high energy and saw myself motivated to get results,” Sjoquist said.
When it comes to art, unfortunately, students who are taking the course online may miss out on the personal aspect of the class. Not only do students miss the social interaction that often fuels creativity, but the virtual classroom makes it more difficult for them to receive tips as they work.
Despite these circumstances, Sjoquist is working her hardest to share her passion of art with her students and support them during an unprecedented time. This has made her a welcomed member of Highland High School.