Art teacher wins national award

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Alexandra Winchester believes art can teach creative skills

Alexandra Winchester, visual arts teacher at East Three Secondary School, received a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. – Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

It was not even a minute into the interview when Alexandra Winchester rushed out of her seat to put a cap back on a Sharpie pen on a student’s desk.

Sorry, teacher things,” she said, before going back to saying how honoured she was to receive a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

I was shocked and honoured and humbled by it,” she said.

Winchester has been teaching art in Inuvik for just over six years, having moved from New Brunswick for the job at the old Samuel Hearne Secondary School. She teaches Grade 7-12 visual arts and has recently brought in ceramic and theatrical makeup classes as well.

The Inuvik job was her first real gig in teaching.

I try to make it fun,” she said of her teaching philosophy.

I want them to enjoy being in the classroom. I want them to feel like they can express themselves in the classroom, and I want them to learn at the same time. If I can bring all those things together, I think it makes for a successful classroom.”

Chrissy Hvatum, one of her Grade 11 students, seems to think that approach is working.

She is very hardworking, but she’s also fun about it, and she makes everybody laugh,” said Hvatum. “I think she really deserved that award.”

Winchester said she’s lucky in the North to have such great support for arts initiatives.

You always hear about it being cut, especially in the States,” she said.

If there are ideas or subjects or new things I want try, (East Three School) is really receptive to that. I value that up here, because I know that not everyone has the same resources that I can bring into my classroom, just because of the fact they’re open to letting me try different things, like the theatrical makeup and the ceramics.”

Arts sometimes doesn’t get the same credit as subjects like science or math, but Winchester thinks the same creative thinking and problem-solving skills are used and developed in all of those subjects.

In ceramics, there’s a lot of failure in the beginning, but if you push past that you’ll find success, and that’s something that translates into everyday life,” she said.

Winchester also runs a biannual Art Travel Club trip out of the country to visit places with prominent art scenes, and she was instrumental in the creations of the Lights On! Drugs and Alcohol Off program that sees high school students hired as mentors for their junior peers.

She said she has no plans to quit on a high note and wants to see where some of the school’s arts programs can go in the future.