Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/glendale/articles/1231arts1231Z2.html

Art teacher of year stirs imaginations
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 31, 2003 12:00 AM
Nora Fascenelli

Creativity speaks in any language

If art were simply in the eye of the beholder, Sarah Kriehn might be out of a job.

During her 20 years with Washington Elementary School District, Kriehn has put time and energy into her work as an art teacher. She stirs the imaginations of youthful students and teaches them to see the world around them in a special way.

Her ability to connect with the creative side of students earned Kriehn the attention of her colleagues, who recently honored her as 2003 Arizona Elementary Art Educator of the Year.

Since becoming an art teacher six years ago at John Jacobs Elementary School, Kriehn has been encouraging students to enter art contests at the district, county and state levels. Her students routinely bring home ribbons, trophies and honors and they have no fear of judges or competition in venues large or small.

In the recent Grand Canyon State Games Art Contest, three of Kriehn's students walked away with prestigious wins. Five-year-old Jordan Sharpe received the gold medal for his Bloom Where You Are Planted submission. Another gold medal winner, 9-year-old Anjali Goria, touched judges with the colorful illustration Let There Be Peace. Haley Valdez, 9, earned the bronze medal for What Matters Is What's Inside Of You.

On any given day, Kriehn's classroom echoes with the sound of soft children's voices, as students help each other navigate a course of organized chaos. They take detailed directions from their teacher and develop that most illusive youthful quality - patience.

English is the first language for many of her students, but not all of them. Some speak Russian, some speak Farsi and some speak Spanish.

"Art is the one thing that connects everyone in the world," Kriehn said. "It's the universal language."

As students assemble PVC joints and piping into makeshift looms where strips of cloth and discarded grocery bags are woven into wall hangings, Kriehn reminds them to pay attention to the task at hand.

"The kids are learning that carelessness leads to mistakes they'll have to pay for down the line," Kriehn said. "They're also learning to ask for help. It's nothing to be afraid of."

It's important to be philosophically grounded, Kriehn said.

"Art teachers are so attuned to the fact that art relates to just about every other area of life," she said.

Indeed, her students learn to ask for and give support to classmates. They practice skills involving math, reading and language, cleverly disguised as fun.

Kriehn's classroom houses ordinary materials like chicken wire, grocery sacks and rumpled old newspapers. Instead of heading for the trash, these found items will someday see that Cinderella moment and be transformed into art. Fanciful creations bloom in every corner of the campus where artful renderings of Kriehn's students and colleagues are displayed for all to see.

Fellow teachers teamed up to make colorful ceramic tiles trimming the newly planted garden. A giant multicolored gila monster stands guard at the entry of the school and artful handmade hummingbirds hover underneath the shade of leafy trees.

Kriehn's talents are not limited to John Jacobs Elementary School. She coordinates the district's Artist-In-Residence program, mentors other teachers and is active in the Arizona Alliance for Arts Education, a statewide parent advocacy group. As a member of Washington's Legislative Action Team, her enthusiasm reaches the ears and gains the attention of lawmakers who can make or break the programs Kriehn is dedicated to preserving and expanding.

Kriehn, her students and their families will attend a statewide award luncheon this spring at Arizona State University. They will be joined by students from Sunburst School, silver medalist Leslie Arce and honorable mention winner Trenton Crane, who both received accolades from Grand Canyon State 2003 Art Contest judges for artists in the 9-year-old category.

Reach the reporter at nora.fascenelli@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-6930.