Frank Juarez is a high school art teacher for Sheboygan North High School; however, he is quick to establish the importance of varied artistic contexts and connections to help students see school in a different way. “As educators,” Juarez says, “we work to help students with self-discovery through a variety of opportunities-- school, community, and across the state, to create in multiple ways, to make their art relate to how they see their world.”
Juarez believes that sharing the many facets of his professional life with students through his art gallery, and providing access to artists in the Midwest is key.
Whether or not they pursue art after high school, students must be able to navigate adult-like scenarios, including working with others, accepting criticism without taking it personally, and being comfortable with who they are. This requires implementing a strong art curriculum and getting to know kids in their element.
“I can have 30+ kids in a class, and each student is unique. I don’t know what they’re thinking or feeling unless they are vocal about it,” Juarez says. This realization informed his research into how to increase literacy in art classes. Instead of defining successful artists as people outside of their community, he started thinking about what he could do to make art relevant in students’ lives today.
Juarez and a few friends traveled to four states in the Midwest to survey artists. They compiled videos, interviews, photos, and websites. Juarez uses this information as another way to expose students to contemporary art. Now, he says, “students know how to navigate digital resources, how to ask questions to do artist research, how to talk to strangers and feel confident.” Exposing students to art in this way shows them that art is not just something that lives in galleries in big cities. Art lives everywhere-- in notebooks, basements, laptops, and sketchbooks.
Juarez admits that being a teacher today is extremely difficult. He also admits that he remains committed to doing the extra work it takes to connect his artistic interests and experiences outside of school to his classroom, in hopes of making an impact.
Getting to know all of his students, promoting their work, advocating for them, and exposing them to many different experiences is what sends a message to students that he cares about them. “That’s the power of education, especially in art, to get to know students’ likes and dislikes, and for them get to know each other. It’s also a testament to the relationships that are fostered at North High School, keeping an open channel of communication.”