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Benson High Art Teacher Paves the Way for Students and Staff

Astra Patterson’s career as an art teacher at Benson High spans five decades. She is an advocate for the art program by showcasing her students’ creativity, mentoring new teachers and evolving her skills as an artist.

“Teaching art is like coaching a sport," said Patterson. “If students know you've done it then they have more respect for what you're telling them. So, I think it's important to show them my work.”

Patterson displays her artwork among her students’ showcases. She gets excited about learning new techniques and learning from workshops, YouTube videos and books.

“I tell my students, if you aren’t learning every day then life is boring,” said Patterson. “Even at my age, I love learning.”

Each year Patterson submits her students’ artwork to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. All entries are considered for Gold Key, Silver Key and Honorable Mention. Of the hundreds of submissions from across the state this year, 107 Omaha Public Schools students were recognized. Twenty-six of those students are from Benson High.

"I've always felt the Scholastic Art [& Writing] Awards is an important competition to get involved with because submissions come from across the state. It’s an opportunity to show students they're as good as everybody else,” said Patterson. “To have a panel of professional artists choose their art as one of the top three, that's really impressive.”

During her career, Patterson has mentored dozens of student teachers. Sharing design books, lesson plans and encouraging them to continue growing the art program. Samantha Guelden, Benson High art teacher, was mentored by Patterson when she started her position seven years ago.

“She showed me how to really reach the students and connect with them on a level that I had not seen yet," said Guelden. “She always encourages our students to go further and see their true potential. She has brought alumni back as professional artists to work with students and helps them make connections outside of the classroom to grow creatively."

Patterson feels a great sense of pride and commitment to Benson High and the art program. She recalls writing a grant in the early 2000s to purchase Apple computers to teach graphic design. The class was so popular, it helped Benson High create their Construction and Design Academy.

The Construction and Design Academy offers pathways in computer graphic design, architectural design and construction management and processes. The program allows students to begin creating a portfolio to share with future employers or post-secondary education.

“It feels good to be a part of the expansion of our department,” said Patterson. “I do what I love, and I love what I do.”