Kathy Van Loan retires after 23 years teaching art at Canajoharie Central School. In that time, she has embraced every opportunity to grow as a person and a teacher, and to share her multicultural experiences with her students.
Teaching was not her first profession. She began working at the Victory Market (next to Iroquois Lanes) while attending Canajoharie High School. She later worked at Central National Bank, Dievendorf’s Bookstore in Fort Plain, and Grand Union. She also tended calves and kept the books on her and her husband Dana’s dairy farm.
Deep down, she wanted more.
As her children grew, she decided to pursue art as a career. She attended Herkimer County Community College part-time, earning her associate degree. She went on to St. Rose where a professor encouraged her to become a teacher after seeing her working with younger students. Her grades and artistic talent earned her a full scholarship, enabling her to earn her B.S. in Education with concentration in art. In that first year, she worked as a substitute teacher in 10 school districts while looking for a full-time position. She joined the Canajoharie faculty in 1994 to replace art teacher Sharon Heyenck who had suddenly passed away. Mrs. Van Loan completed her teaching certification by earning her M.Ed over three summers, taking graduate courses at Plymouth College.
Mrs. Van Loan has taught a full range of high school art classes from beginner to advanced levels. She introduced sculpture, ceramics, and digital photography to the curriculum. She has encouraged students to explore their artistic interests and to consider art as a career. She and retired Family and Consumer Science teacher Dolores Talmadge advanced yearbook layout from “cut and paste” to a fully digital format.
She is especially proud of being Canajoharie’s first Fulbright Scholar.
“In 2001, (high school principal) Don Bowden ran into my room one day, saying ‘You can go to Japan,’” she said. “I asked him how and he told me to come to his office.”
She listened to his pitch. Few students in Canajoharie travel. The only way they learn about other cultures is through their teachers. Put that in an application, he said, and she would have a serious chance.
Taking that advice, she applied, won, and travelled to Japan.
She went abroad again in 2004, this time as an educator under the U.S. State Department’s Armenia School Connectivity Program. When she returned to Canajoharie, she and her art class connected with Armenian students via the Internet. In addition to sharing their respective cultures, the students studied the filmmaker and artist Sergei Parajonov. The Canajoharie students incorporated what they learned into their art. The project became a State Department presentation.
The impact of international travel on her teaching convinced Mrs. Van Loan to travel to Krakow, Poland in 2005 where she earned her English as a Second Language teaching certificate. That paved the way for a 2006 Fulbright Scholarship, this time teaching ESL in colleges in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in 2006. She earned a stunning third Fulbright that sent her on a cultural exchange in Poland and Russia.
She also earned a National Endowment for the Humanities award to study Pueblo culture and to help excavate a Pueblo site near Mesa Verde, Colorado. Again, she shared that experience with her students, expanding their understanding of the interaction and interdependence of art and life.
Through foreign exchange programs, she found another way to bring the world to Canajoharie. She hosted two students in her home, Sandra Peternusch of Austria and Hallgjerd Stromsvag of Norway, and exchange teacher Wei Li of China.
Mrs. Van Loan is leaving her physical mark on Canajoharie school buildings. Over the years, she and fellow art teacher Michelle Egelston wrote a series of grants to fund visiting artists. The artists worked with middle and high school students to create the murals and mosaics that adorn the schools’ walls.
“Night after night, we sat in the art room writing these grants,” she said. “Many were over 60 pages and were hand delivered to the funder. Together with the generous support of PTA funding, we were able to enhance our buildings and expose students to the talents of these visiting artists.”
Middle school and high school art students collaborated on the projects. As many as 160 students took part each year, creating the murals and mosaics are visible in the elementary, middle school and high school. Most recently the Kanatsiohareke mosaic allowed high school and middle school students to work side-by-side. The “History of Canajoharie” mural in the East Hill cafeteria has been used as an educational took for teachers.
In recent years, Mrs. Van Loan has developed projects to support learning in other classrooms. Her art students created Egyptian and medieval works in concert with Phil Schoff’s global history curriculum and created geometric art applying math teacher Kim Smith’s proportions and ratios lessons.
To no one’s surprise, Mrs. Van Loan plans to fill her retirement with art and travel.