‘She doesn’t leave anybody behind’
Oak Lawn photography teacher is top art educator
When Marissa Perales’ photograph of herself with her two mothers recently appeared in a New York Times article about Gen Z, she said the credit should go to her high school art teacher, whoinspired her to take the picture and enter the newspaper’s teen photo contest.
“I wanted to really capture the warmth of my household,” said Perales, a senior at Oak Lawn Community High School, who was named a runner-up in the contest for the picture. “It’s all because of Ms. (Jennifer) Wargin.”
For that and other teaching efforts, Wargin recently won the Illinois Art Education Association Secondary Art Educator of the Year award for 2018. The Illinois Art Education Association presented her with the award after receiving enthusiastic endorsements from school administrators. Wargin is a member and an editor for one of the association’s publications.
Perales, who lives in Oak Lawn, said Wargin encourages students to look at the technical details of photographs and analyze what the pictures mean to them personally during her photography class.
“It’s the energy she sparks in the class that makes people very excited and want to learn,” said Perales, who hopes to work in film photography. “She gives us free range to do whatever we want to express ourselves.
“She also caters to everybody’s needs and work ethics at their level. … She doesn’t leave anybody be- hind.”
Oak Lawn Community High School Principal Jeana Lietz said she was struck byWargin’s enthusiasm and dedication to teaching, even after 19 years at the job.
“To me it’s that she always has the students at the center of everything she does,” said Lietz. “She’ll work hard, she’ll be here late hours, all in the interest of serving the kids.”
Lietz said Wargin was often nominated by students for teacher awards. Wargin is also an instructional coach, giving other teachers tips on how to influence students.
“A lot of times for her, it’s about student engagement, how to get students excited about new content,” said Lietz, explainingWargin recently showed an English teacher how students could turn a piece of creative writing into art.
To motivate students, Wargin said she encouraged them to photograph things theywere interested in.
“Ihave the students write about their earliest childhoodmemory,” saidWargin. “Their last photography project will be based on this writing they did.
“I like to incorporate social-emotional learning in the curriculum.”
Teaching students to utilize technical resources is also important, whether through Photoshop or working in the darkroom, saidWargin.
“One of the challenges for the kids is they need to know how to use resources,” saidWargin. “People expect them to be 21st- century learners.”
Wargin said the school helped her win the award.
“I don’t think this has anything to do with me as much as it does the administration andmy students. … They’re brave. They let me do a lot with them.”
Oak Lawn Community High School student Marissa Perales’ photograph of herself with her two mothers recently was published in The New York Times after her teacher, Jennifer Wargin, encouraged Perales to submit the photo for a contest.