Shouts and Murmurs: Teacher’s determination pays off
Frequently in Tonganoxie, one hears of teachers who go above and beyond their job expectations for the good of their students.
On Saturday, THS art teacher Jessica Stukus made that step.
In an effort that would have exasperated anyone, Stukus took her students' artwork to Johnson County to enter about 28 pieces in the Scholastic art competition.
This is a national 80-year-old art competition. According to the Scholastic's Web site, since 1923, 12 million students have participated, 2 million young artists and writers have been recognized and $20 million in awards and scholarships have been made available.
Clearly, for her students this competition was important.
Stukus, who lives in Lawrence, loaded the finished pieces in her Ford Contour and headed to Johnson County. The artwork varied in size, from a 10-by-12-inch drawing to a 30-pound metal sculpture.
Here's what happened when she went into the building, carrying the entries.
"I walked in the door, I had two portfolios and a box, and the people there looked at me and it was kind of a sad look but an 'oh no please don't come in here' look," Stukus said, "because I had all those pieces and they knew that it was wrong."
That's when Stukus, who is a first-year art teacher at THS, learned that the entries were to have been submitted in slide form.
It was 11 a.m. All exhibits were supposed to have been in by noon.
Stukus, persistent, and those who were registering the entries, sympathetic, reached a compromise.
"They told me that if I could get to somewhere and take pictures of all these pieces and turn them into slides within the next four hours they would accept them," Stukus said.
So, she loaded the projects back into her car and drove back to Lawrence, stopping to buy slide film.
"I went back to my house and I photographed them indoors and outdoors," Stukus said, estimating she took six or seven photos of each item.
Then she rushed her film to a photo developer that she knew could get the slides processed in an hour.
At 2:45 she picked up the slides. She selected the ones to enter, and labeled each slide with the dimensions of the actual piece, the name of the artwork, the school and student's name. She inserted the entries into a slide projector and drove them back to Johnson County, delivering her entries with 15 minutes to spare.
Just what was it that made Stukus go to what most of us would call extreme measures to make sure her students' artworks were accepted? It's possible many people would have said oh well, we'll just have to wait another year and left it at that.
But Stukus knew how hard her students had worked to complete their projects, which included matting the photos, drawings and paintings for exhibition. She'd seen the spark in their eyes, their interest, when they filled out their entry forms. And the last thing in the world she wanted to do was to let them down.
Plus, it was another chance to set an example.
"One of the things I was thinking the entire time is as a teacher you always hear excuses of I didn't have enough time or this happened this way," Stukus said. "... If I am trying to teach a lesson of having things in on time to students, and meeting deadlines, then I should have to be able to show and practice that example."
THS Principal Tatia Shelton told school board members on Monday about Stukus' efforts, and praised her dedication in the classroom as well.
"She's been working really hard with our art students and I think she's really been challenging our kids to go above and beyond what they've done before," Shelton said.
Shelton said, when she learned what Stukus had to go through to get her students' projects entered Saturday, she was impressed -- and thrilled.
"I gave her a big hug and told her great job," Shelton said.
Now that the students' entries are part of the competition, Stukus, and her students, are waiting to hear the results. She's expecting to know within the next two weeks.
But whether her students place in the competition, they've already had a great lesson, compliments of Stukus, about being willing to go that extra step, to take that extra chance, to get the job done.
And after all, that's what being an educator is all about.