GREEN — Erin Wozniak remembers sketching in her notebook when she was around 8 years old and thinking that she wanted to do art for the rest of her life.
But as a fine arts major at Columbus College of Art & Design, she began to question her plan to become a studio artist and even considered going to medical school.
“I wanted to feel like I was helping others in a more tangible way,” she said.
While still in college, Wozniak started teaching Saturday morning art classes to high school students. She found her renewed sense of purpose.
“Art had formed my identity since childhood, and I had found a way to share everything I love about it with others,” she said.
Wozniak, now in her 10th year teaching art, has been named the 2019 Stark County Teacher of the Year.
The 1999 GlenOak High School graduate, who worked at Alliance City Schools for seven years and has taught at Green Intermediate for the past three years, was recognized last week during the Stark County Educational Service Center’s annual Education Celebration at R.G. Drage Career Technical Center. The Stark County ESC provides services for 23 school districts, including all 17 Stark County public school districts, Green Local and districts in Carroll, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties.
“It’s just an honor. There’s so many amazing teachers,” said Wozniak, who lives in North Canton with her husband, Wes Wright, and daughters, Lana, 9, and Elyse, 7.
Here are five things to know about Wozniak:
1. She believes that a quality arts education prepares students for current and future life challenges because it teaches the ability to imagine and create, to think of alternative possibilities, to revise, refine and improve and to communicate and connect.
“Sadly, art education is sometimes mistakenly thought of as a crafty recess, but it’s far from that,” Wozniak said. “Yes, it can be joyful, and fun, and even relaxing, but it is teaching vital problem-solving and interpersonal skills, and I take that responsibility seriously.”
2. She uses her failures as lessons for her students. Wozniak was asked to create 10 fish costumes for her youngest daughter’s ice skating team to wear for an upcoming show. It took her five tries — and five different fabrics — before she found the design. On Thursday, she showed her sixth-graders the different costume iterations and talked about her struggles.
“It’s all part of the problem-solving process,” she said. "… The lesson is do not give up. When you guys run into a problem, you have to keep trying with it because eventually you will get there if you don’t stop.”
3. She tries to treat every student as if he or she were her own child.
“I think about the teacher I would want my daughters to have,” she said. “That teacher would be caring, engaging, motivational, uplifting, organized, reliable and an inspiring person of character every single day.”
4. She will embarrass herself to make the content connect to her students’ lives. She’s worn T-shirts featuring Fortnite in a silhouette art style or cute cartoon animals displaying pen and ink techniques. She created an art teacher lab coat that she wears to demonstrate different art concepts with dance moves. When she shimmies her arms together, she’s mixing complementary colored sleeves. If she put her arms up in a “dab” formation, the painted sleeves create the order or colors of the rainbow.
“Embarrassing, but hey, it works,” she said. “They laugh and also remember.”
5. Outside of school, Wozniak has created “Weesie Pals,” her own line of handmade dolls for children with special needs or physical differences. She donates a portion of the proceeds to charities, especially those that support individuals born with missing or underdeveloped ears like her youngest daughter.
For the past two years, Wozniak has been illustrating a series of children’s books that have an uplifting message of perseverance and inclusion. She’s also volunteered at read-aloud events and has donated copies of the first book in the series, “Ricky, the Rock that Couldn’t Roll” to Green Local and other school districts.
Reach Kelli Weir at 330-580-8339 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @kweirREP