Soon after Marita Fitzpatrick ’85 got her master’s degree in art education, she visited a school that had a theater program.
“I thought, ‘Theater is just so awesome,’” she said. Fast-forward to today: Fitzpatrick applied for and won a $5,000 Picasso Project grant so that students at Bodine High School for International Affairs in Philadelphia could write and perform their own play.
“Very little had to do with what I teach,” said Fitzpatrick, who has been teaching art at Bodine for nine years, and 19 years overall in Philadelphia public schools. “I just really wanted to have the kids have theater.”
That passion and dedication is why Fitzpatrick has been selected as one of 60 teachers in the Philadelphia School District to receive the 2019 Lindback Foundation Distinguished Teaching Awards. The foundation celebrates excellence in education. The prizes have been given to elementary, middle and high school teachers since 2008.
“I think a lot of art teachers aren’t noticed, and to be noticed is wonderful,” she said. “I really appreciate that.”
Fitzpatrick wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after getting her degree in painting from Moore. She worked in the College’s library as a circulation supervisor for two years, and took classes in textile design and pattern-making. She eventually became a decorator, and worked for ten years for businesses such as the Marketplace Design Center, JCPenney and Country Floors, and with architects and interior designers.
“Then I decided I wanted to do something that had personal meaning, so I went back and got my master’s in art education at the University of the Arts, and I set out with the idea of teaching in the Philadelphia public schools,” she said. “I kind of have a mission to teach Philadelphia’s youth art.”
Fitzpatrick teaches the students fine arts, craft, painting and drawing.
“When I first started teaching high school, one of the students said to me, ‘Do people make art today?’ And I was like, ‘What?’” she recalled. “I must be doing something wrong.” She began studying contemporary artists, like Kerry James Marshall, Kara Walker, Ai Weiwei and Roberto Lugo.
“These are the people that are making art right now, so (the students) can actually connect with what’s being done,” she said. “I can’t imagine some kid from North Philly is going to have anything in common with August Renoir.”
A MODEL FOR LIFE
Large, colorful collages with themes including nature and social issues cover one wall of her classroom in the basement at Bodine. Intricate sculptures made from cardboard rest on tabletops. Some works by Fitzpatrick’s senior students are on display in Bodine’s meditation room.
She has her young artists follow ‘Art Studio Habits of Mind,’ from the book Studio Thinking 2: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education by Lois Herland, to better understand concepts of art, such as observing and exploring, engaging and persisting.
“It’s like a model for life,” she explained. “Most kids aren’t going to become artists, but if they can have this experience, they’ll learn that, sure things are going to be hard, but if you can persist… . It’s really a way to help them deal with the world.”
Fitzpatrick received $3,500 as a Lindback Award winner. She’s planning a spring break trip to Prague and Vienna to see the architecture and visit museums.
Then, it will be back to teaching.
“It’s a hard job, but I love it,” she said. “I feel like I’m making a difference.”