Exceptional teachers go beyond the time and interest they spend on their students in the classroom. The great ones are not only concerned with present situations, but working hard, at the same time, to point their pupils in the right direction for after they leave high school. Kelsey Rich ’13, an art teacher at Lake Placid High School in Lake Placid, FL, is one such teacher; and since she knows that it might be the right direction for many of her senior students, she points them north, and straight toward a successful future right here at Findlay.
As a UF freshman, Rich said, it had taken her a few months to settle on a major, but that she “found her niche” in art, when she was told during a major fair by associate professor of art and chair of the department of visual and performing arts at UF, Valerie Escobedo, that she would likely thrive in UF’s art program. Escobedo was right. “I learned so much, got much needed one on one attention with professors, and gained valuable field experience through internships and, later, [upon returning to UF for teaching certification] student teaching,” Rich said of her time at UF. “I even formed lifelong friendships with some of my professors.” Those friendships help her even further when she nudges her students toward UF and its creative presence on campus: the art program and its many beneficial offshoots.
In fact, one part of the UF campus and its artistic side that was particularly beneficial to Rich as a student, and one that she extolls the virtues of for her students and others alike, remains close to her heart. She said she spent a lot of time volunteering at UF’s Mazza Museum for several Funday Sundays, as well as handling the responsibilities of being its student director during summer internships. “I had the opportunity to design exhibits, visit artists and authors in their studios, [and] work with them during the Summer Conferences,” Rich explained. “I would have to say my time at the Mazza Museum was most influential, as that’s what led me to teaching. [Late Mazza Museum Director] Dr. Jerry Mallett encouraged me to pursue not only my personal art, but to educate and inspire others to do art, too.”
Upon graduating from the UF art program as the first in her immediate family to finish college with a bachelor’s degree, Rich said that she tried many endeavors, some creative, some a bit more practical. But, as teachers are known to tell it, she felt a particular call toward education. And for that, she also knew which way to point herself. “I went out into the world and worked as a stained-glass technician, a substitute teacher, and a pet store manager, but finally decided to come back to UF to get my teaching license,” she said, “because I knew that where my heart really belonged was in the classroom, teaching.” Rich was recruited to LPHS by the principal of the school, Kevin Tunning, during one of University of Findlay’s College of Education’s career fairs, and a career was born.
These days, in her first teaching job, Rich was recently nominated for LPHS’s Teacher of the Year. She’s been working on a Master’s of Education, and has been educating and inspiring others at LPHS for three years. She said that, while it can be daunting being the only art teacher at the school, she truly loves it. The mix of ups and downs she faces while teaching art to high schoolers is rewarding. “I have to come up with my own curriculum, but I have a lot of freedom and can differentiate as needed for my students,” Rich said. And as the Class of 2021 sponsor and the Art Club adviser, she guides about 25 members through work on community service projects, fundraisers and raising art awareness on campus and in the community through art shows and demonstrations.
As a member of LPHS’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Site Team, which encourages college preparedness and individual determination amongst the student population, Rich’s determination for her student success only grows. And, as she has successfully added students to UF’s class rosters by making her own students aware of the many benefits of a UF education, she has all of the confidence in the world in knowing they are moving on toward greatness. “My students will not only get the well-rounded education they deserve when they go to the University of Findlay, but they will be well cared for like I was, they will have fun, and they will be safe,” she said.