National Teaching Award Nominee
Northampton High School, Northampton, Massachusetts
Student Nomination Story
I came into Ms. Leary's class stubborn and convinced I knew everything. She pushed me back into the basics of drawing and painting despite my complaints and thinking it would be pointless. I had horrible grades, hated school, and only liked to draw. I didn’t care about my classes and didn't know how to get where I wanted to be. Ms. Leary pointed me in the right direction and made me want to be more. I was treated like an adult. My decisions were harshly questioned instead of being given a meaningless participation grade. You need to be prepared to be in her class and she has no hesitation calling someone out if they aren’t. You have to really want it and if you do, she will change your life. She pushed me to think more about what I want to make and who I want to be, as well as leaving room for me to grow. She made me try new things and take any opportunity I could find, many of them brought to my attention by her. In my junior year, she nominated me for a program in which 20 students create an installation piece in 2 days. This experience shifted my interests from painting to sculpture, something I had never tried before. Since then I have become a sculpture major and work in a foundry casting bronze. I now see sculpture as a huge part of my identity, and I am very aware that it's something I would not have found so quickly without her. She is always honest, often brutal, but undeniably wise and usually right. It broke me down and made me question everything, which is exactly what a motivated young artist needs. She isn't afraid to look like the bad guy if she thinks it will make you better. It's something students resent for 5 minutes but end up eternally grateful for it. Ms. Learys students are more consistently successful in the arts than any high school I've ever seen. I graduated two years ago and am currently studying at one of the most prestigious art schools in the country, and many of my former classmates can say the same. I wouldn’t be here without her and still feel her impact every day. She completely changed the way I saw the world because she wouldn't let me skate by without questioning why things are the way they are. She gives us the tools and but makes each of her students define the world for themselves. Currently, former students are putting together an alumni show at a local gallery. She has enough students that want to celebrate her impact and learned from her how to make museum-quality/gallery-ready art that we can fill an entire gallery. There have also been two other alumni shows dedicated to her in the past. I have never met a teacher more loved by the students she gets close to and more dedicated to helping people follow their dreams. She sees a potential artist in everybody that walks into her classroom. I completely turned my life around because of her class. I realized I could do more and began to strive for constant improvement because she believed I could. Not only did I go from a C average to a straight-A student, but I also started college courses at 17 and received a diploma for only 3 years of attending high school classes. Because of this transformation, I got accepted into my current school as a part of their scholars program, which gave me a scholarship to study art history in Italy. I take advanced classes, and I will graduate with distinction a semester early. I would never believe it if you told 15-year-old me that I would become this dedicated to my education, and it is largely thanks to her. My story is in no way unique. My accomplishments are mirrored in so many of her past students. I am among many who can say Ms. Leary changed my life and I am forever indebted to her. Besides her incredible impact on individual students, she has also been a department chair and actively fighting for the arts in public schools as a whole for many years. Making huge waves and standing up for one of the best and most competitive high school art programs in the country, she impacted every person in Northampton's fine and performing art department whether they ever met her or not. With all of this, she also manages to have an amazing art career of her own, making her even more of an inspiration to her students. She has changed all of us for the better, academically, personally, and artistically. I included a picture from an article that was published about the remarkable success of Ms. Leary and her students. We all had the opportunity to talk about our accomplishments and plans for the future and not a single one of us didn't mention how Ms. Leary helped us get there.
Naomi Claire Brenneck
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