Art teacher a ‘big inspiration’

Published 12:05 pm Saturday, February 21, 2009

The domed-room is an outlet for creativity as students come and go, asking questions and shuffling about as they work on their latest projects.

Murals and posters canvass the walls. Music streams from a stereo.

Friday is movie day for the Advanced Placement art class, and the choices are “Body of Lies” and “Changeling;” they pick the latter. Some of the students sketch on drawing pads while others discuss art with their teacher, Jesse Smith.

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Smith, 34, an art teacher at Grand Meadow Public Schools for three years, is good at making connections. A musician with a casual teaching style, students feel they can relate.

“He’s a big inspiration — I love his class,” said Randy Eggermont, a senior in Smith’s Art and Culture course. “He’s an awesome teacher.”

An Austin High School, Riverland Community College and Winona State University graduate, Smith is also a member of a band, Taxi, and is in his first year teaching guitar at RCC. He has two sons — Isaiah, 9, and Henry, 6 — and they live with his wife, Laurie, in Austin.

Smith began teaching in Grand Meadow after a two-year stint at an alternative school in the Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District, in Columbia Heights, Minn.

“I started an art program there,” Smith said. “These were students … a lot of them didn’t have anywhere to go.”

Although he loved the experience, the commute to the metro area from Austin took a toll after they moved from Columbia Heights.

“And then I saw an opening here and applied,” he said. “I left on great terms.”

Since he started teaching in Grand Meadow — a town, school and student demographic much different than his first job — Smith has boosted the Art Club and began AP art classes.

“I would like to just offer students what they see is a good art program,” Smith said. “They should be able to voice their opinion on that.

“It’s really good to see students who really get into it,” he said.

Smith is especially proud of the ceramics classes. Grand Meadow has a kiln and four wheels, which is unusual for a school of its size. Participation is also high for the particular art medium.

“I think this is the first year it’s been offered the second semester,” Smith said. “The Art Club as well is something that has grown since I started.”

Club members are planning to teach after-school art classes for elementary children.

“I try to empower them as much as I can,” Smith said of his students. “If there is one thing I can say I really try to teach is (to be) open minded.”

Smith is also three-fourths of the way through his master’s degree in professional education studies, and teaches guitar lessons at Grand Meadow as well.

“He’s just an outstanding educator,” superintendent Joe Brown said. “He’s a unique teacher.”