In the “School Spotlight” this week is Sara M. Gant, Jacksonville’s Northside High School (NHS) art instructor. Gant has worked in education for 27 years, with 17 of those years at NHS. Gant graduated with her Bachelors in Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University and her Masters in Education from East Carolina University.

Q. What encouraged you to pursue your job as an educator?

A. I had a BFA when I arrived in Onslow County in 1988. I worked at the Onslow County Museum as an Education Outreach Coordinator and loved planning the annual Summer Art program so much that I applied to Onslow County Schools (OCS) as a lateral entry art educator. I then went back to school to earn my certification in art education.

Q. What encouraged you to pursue education within your specific age level/curriculum?

A. My high school art teacher Mrs. Greene had a huge impact on my life. I fell in love with art and art history in her art room at St. John’s International School in Waterloo, Belgium. After I became an art teacher, I worked at Northwoods Elementary here in Jacksonville for about 7 years and loved it, but only saw students once a week. I really wanted to get to know my students more and see them on a daily basis. At the time the idea of teaching high school terrified me, but I knew it was what would allow me to make the deeper connections I needed. I switched to NHS in 2001 when it opened and have absolutely loved it.

Q. What is your main education philosophy?

A. The arts are a mirror of civilization and allow us to fully express ourselves. I believe that an education in the arts addresses the whole child. Art stresses the importance of learning more about ourselves and not just about the importance of mark-making. The problem-solving, analytical skills that artists learn are oh-so-critical in today’s professional world, yet I also believe in the nurturing and compassionate aspect of being both a coach and head cheerleader for my students.

Q. What is a lesson you have learned from your students?

A. In his later years, Michelangelo wrote “Ancaro Imparo” which means “I am still learning.” I have a necklace with this engraved on it. I learn from my students every day and I delight in the little “aha” moments or the huge life lessons that we share in together. I don’t think any educator should ever feel as if they have “arrived” or that they know it all. We are all still learning along with our students.

Q. What is your favorite part of being an educator?

A. I love seeing students who are just as passionate about art as I am. However, when students thank me, or hug me, or write notes to express their gratitude, it reminds me that I am not just here to teach art. I am also here to help guide teenagers through whatever they are going through. I take that charge very seriously. I also love keeping in touch with former students who live all over the world.

Q. What advice would you give to upcoming/new educators?

A. Have a sense of humor, get to know your students, don’t try to do it all at once, find a great mentor, be patient with yourself and remember your “why.”

Q. What are three words that would describe your life outside of the classroom? (hobbies, interests, etc.)

A. Art, Reading, Travel

Q. What is a favorite memory from your career?

A. It’s hard to isolate just one, I have so many. One of my many favorites is when I took my Advanced Placement Art History students to D.C. to visit the National Gallery of Art. One of my students was a dancer, and she loved the artist Degas. As we turned a corner into a gallery, I was watching her face, because I knew what was ahead of us. She turned the corner, saw the sculpture of Degas’ “Little Dancer” and was so overcome she had tears in her eyes. It was a lovely moment!

Q. What advice would you give to a parent of a 9th grader?

A. I would encourage a parent of a freshman to encourage their child to find their “tribe” within the school. By seeking out a club or sport to become involved in, a child will become part of a smaller “family” with similar interests which then becomes an important support network when needed.

Q. What changes would you like to see implemented in the school system within the next 5 years?

A. I think OCS is already very strong and is going in many great forward-facing directions. OCS is hugely supportive of the arts and if anything, I would just hope that the current class size mandate challenges that face the school systems won’t impact arts education in any way.

Q. What are the biggest challenges you face as an educator in a military town?

A. I hate saying goodbye to students who are leaving to a new duty station. It’s very hard to see the pain of students who are going through tough deployments or the loss of a parent. The challenge is to make sure our students know we are here if they need us.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share about being an educator?

A. Just that I don’t think most people realize just how hugely demanding the teaching profession can be .... I would encourage everyone with an extra hour or two to volunteer at a school, to help out as a proctor during exam times, to reach out and see how you can help. It makes a difference and it is very much appreciated. Teachers have to multi-task, wear a dozen hats and constantly switch gears — every hour of every day. But it is also a most rewarding profession and I am very proud to call myself an OCS art educator.

Editor’s note: “School Spotlight” aims to highlight accomplished school staff and faculty on and off base and seeks to recognize the important role they play in our children’s lives and education.