GSB teacher receives national recognition

Great Salt Bay Community School principal Kim Schaff presents art teacher Karen Hight with the Prang Art Teacher of the Year award during a school assembly on Friday, September 23. Hight was one of 10 teachers selected from more than 2,000 applicants from across the country. From left to right: Emily Cantillo, Karen Hight and Kim Schaff. (Photo Sherwood Olin)

Karen Hight, a longtime art teacher at Great Salt Bay Community School, was surprised to find herself a guest of honor at the school’s assembly on Friday, September 23.

Students, staff, friends and family gathered in the Damariscotta School gymnasium to celebrate Hight’s inclusion as one of the top 10 winners of the Prang Art Teacher of the Year award. Prang, a manufacturer of high-quality student art materials, selected the winners from a national pool of 2,000 nominees.

The honor comes with a $5,000 donation in the form of Prang and Dixon Ticonderoga products for Hight’s Art Room and a personalized handmade plaque to commemorate the award. Additionally, Hight will be featured on Prang’s website and social media accounts.

According to a press release from Prang, the winners were recognized for their significant contributions to the lives of their students by advancing arts education and inspiring self-expression.

Karen Hight, an art teacher at Great Salt Bay Community School, reacts to learning that she is the guest of honor at a school assembly on Friday, September 23.  Hight was one of 10 art teachers from across the country to receive the Prang Art Teacher of the Year Award.  (Photo Sherwood Olin)

Karen Hight, an art teacher at Great Salt Bay Community School, reacts to learning that she is the guest of honor at a school assembly on Friday, September 23. Hight was one of 10 art teachers from across the country to receive the Prang Art Teacher of the Year Award. (Photo Sherwood Olin)

Hight received “an incredible 51 nominations from students, alumni, colleagues, parents, and administrators and is credited with single-handedly developing the school’s art program,” according to the press release.

“It’s so important to her that students see the beauty in life, and she works so hard to help them interact with that beauty in meaningful ways,” GSB principal Kim Schaff said in her recommendation. “She is constantly creating by being able to link school art projects to the community, or simple acts of kindness by hand painting recovery or retirement cards when staff members may need a helping hand. thumbs up or recognition. We are so lucky to have her and she is incredibly deserving of this prestigious award.

Schaff credited GSB mother Ann Wicks for discovering the award and naming Hight.

Wicks said it was an easy nomination to make. She found out about the award via social media in July and informed the GSB parent and teacher organization. Another PTO parent backed the effort and momentum built quickly.

“I am so happy to recognize Karen, who is a beloved and respected teacher,” Wicks said. “Teachers need to be recognized more than ever.”

Hight’s recommendations ranged from a detailed analysis of his effectiveness and teaching philosophy to simple statements of devotion. During the assembly, eighth-graders at GSB read the 51 comments aloud in their entirety.

“She’s a wonderful teacher and my kids love her,” said a comment read by Steve Allen. “My daughter wanted to give her a thank you card because Mrs. Hight is ‘her favorite teacher because she makes all the colors brighter’.”

“She is supportive of all students and a defining figure in our rural Maine community,” said another, read by Fiona Duffy. “The impact she has had on thousands of students throughout her career is positive. She can adapt any lesson to help a struggling student as she can for a student who excels in art.

“I’m so touched by this,” Hight said at the assembly. “It’s going to take me a while to really understand what happened. It feels like a dream right now. I love you all so much. Thank you.”

Later, after thinking for a few days, Hight said she was thrilled that many of the comments she heard spoke to her core belief that art is a way to connect with people and express their attention.

“That’s what I think is so important,” she said. “There may be a lot of things that I don’t do well, but it’s very authentic to me, so it’s very good that that’s why I was chosen.”

Special guests included members of Hight’s immediate family, her husband Chris, her daughter Emily, her son-in-law Tony Cantillo and two of her three brothers. Hight’s two grandchildren are currently enrolled at the GSB.

Hight’s brothers, Chris and David White, separately said they knew how invested Hight was in her work and that they knew she was appreciated, but it was touching to see the school transform for her.

Karen Hight hugs while thanking a line of supporters exiting the gymnasium at Great Salt Bay Community School on Friday, September 23.  A school assembly recognized that Hight received one of the top 10 Prang Art Teacher of the Year awards.  (Photo Sherwood Olin)

Karen Hight hugs while thanking a line of supporters exiting the gymnasium at Great Salt Bay Community School on Friday, September 23. A school assembly recognized that Hight received one of the top 10 Prang Art Teacher of the Year awards. (Photo Sherwood Olin)

“We’ve never seen it so directly, but we’ve felt it,” David White said. “It’s wonderful to see the direct recognition; absolutely, just straight out. I’m super proud of her.

“We know that art teachers are the unsung heroes of every school in the country,” said Steve Boyea, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Dixon Ticonderoga Co., the creators of Prang. “The nominations were heartfelt and inspiring and revealed the incredible connection that art teachers make with their students, colleagues and communities.”

A committee comprised of an art teacher, a working artist, industry executives and two thought leaders in arts education selected the 10 winners.

Nominations were submitted on the Prang website and came from fellow teachers, administrators, parents, current and former students, and members of the community.

Prang was founded in 1882 by Louis Prang, an American printer, lithographer and publisher. Prang was a pioneer in art education and published the first comprehensive training program for public school art teachers. He also developed non-toxic formulas for the products, which led him to create a full line of high-quality, child-safe art products.

Dixon Ticonderoga Co. makes what the company’s materials say is “the best pencil in the world”; finest fine art papers, premium art supplies, craft essentials, and more.

To watch the assembly video click here.

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