The Edmond Sun

April 3, 2013

$5,000 grant helps Santa Fe teacher

Italy to come alive for students

Patty Miller
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — When first approached by her principal to teach AP Art History, Santa Fe High School teacher Sherree Ulrich said she jumped at the prospect. Ulrich said she is an artist, a musician, a lover of poetry and all things aesthetic.

“I had previously taught English to sophomores and juniors, as well as English as a Second Language,” Ulrich said. “Teaching an art history course appeared to be a perfect culmination of my love for the arts and appreciation of other cultures. I saw art history as just another extension of myself that I could seamlessly fuse into my classroom.”

Ulrich said she is constantly making an effort to bring art off of the screen and into real life for her students, but she knows that she needs to gain new inspiration so she applied for a $5,000 grant from the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, which she recently received.  

Her principal, Jason Hayes said, “Sherree is one of our most eclectic teachers and she is multi-talented as well. With her different, varied talents, she not only brings a love of art, but as a musician she also brings a love of music and as an English teacher she is well read and understands and can combine all of the talents she has into teaching art history. As an artistic person she will definitely bring back what she learns in Italy to teach her students.”

Ulrich said after teaching art history she discovered that she needed to increase her depth of knowledge.

“It is easy to identify and critique a work of art; my previous background in literature and writing gives me limitless words to discuss the mood or tone of a piece,” Ulrich said, “but to understand the historical and cultural context of a piece outside of the limitations of my Smartboard is a whole other story completely.”

Ulrich said it became clear to her that the art that she can make real to her students is the art that they will always remember.

“I use yardsticks to demonstrate scale,” Ulrich said. “We build paper replicas of temples to see them in 3-D. I can recall one chilly winter’s morning when I dragged my students out to the football field to mark out the actual size of the Sistine chapel. What was once a 4x4 photo projected on my wall was now a vast masterpiece — a great mystery of how one man could complete something of this grandeur in only four years. As we yelled at each other across the field, the amount of “Wows!” and “NO WAYS” pouring in from every direction quickly made me realize how much my students are missing, and even more so, how much I am missing.”

She said she found herself asking, “What am I bringing students that they do not already have access to via the Internet? In an age where people experience the world through cell phones and text messages, personal experience trumps technology every time. I cannot bring each and every student around the globe to marvel at Masaccio’s frescoes and Bernini’s ‘Baldacchino,’ but I have the ability to go there myself. If cannot bring them around the world with me, I must bring that world back to them.”

Ulrich said she chose Italy to visit because their art spans from ancient Rome to the flamboyantly embellished Rococo.

“I want to traverse deep within the catacombs of the early Christians, and I want to marvel at the mosaics in the Byzantine Basilicas,” Ulrich said. “I want to make my own personal pilgrimage to a Romanesque church, and I want to stare straight up at the sky through the Pantheon’s oculus and feel absolutely worthless next to the ‘Pieta’ that Michelangelo sculpted at a mere 21 years of age.”

This summer Ulrich will be visiting Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, Pisa, Rome and Pompeii.

Ulrich said with this grant she will gain an invaluable amount of first-hand experience and will be able to impart a deeper knowledge to her students that will excite and inspire them to continue to cultivate their appreciation of man’s creation for years to come.