Supportive art teacher encourages all students to be creative


Art teacher Cassandra Suen

The art hallway is one of the most underrated places at school. Many students pass by, but don’t realize it’s a welcoming neighborhood. Walking along the L-shaped hall, I look into each room to see a variety of media used in all types of ways. As I approach the art office, I peek into the room and instantly feel a sense of warmth and calmness.

Art teacher Ms. Suen is excited, bent over a paper plate of tempera paint and cardboard. She’s preparing for her next class, by creating an example full of stamped tree sticks and oblong shapes to represent trees. She takes notes for every step, writing down in bold script on a jumbo yellow legal pad. She is about to teach a small-sized class of students with special needs.

It’s clear that Suen has a passion for students, especially those with disabilities. Aside from her photography classes, Suen teaches FSD, Functional Skills Development, which is a program  for students with special needs. Her creative ways to approach the class, patience, and admiration for her students is what makes her a unique teacher.

Suen has always had a intimate passion for the arts. She said she was constantly drawing as a child, and wanted to have a career in it. After graduating high school, Suen attended SUNY New Paltz to receive a degree in fine arts. She then went to Saint Rose to earn her master’s in art education.

Suen has been teaching at Shen for 11 years, specifically in traditional black and white photography and digital color photo. Just recently, she was assigned by administration to teach FSD. Without any “formal training” she has taken on the challenge of teaching students with disabilities. Since the class is very different from other art electives, she said she has to really think about what she is doing.

“[FSD] is very structured. I have to break the lessons down a lot into small specific instructions,” says Suen.

She also said that structuring the class with plans and projects is the most difficult part, because her students need a lot of guidance to complete the tasks. However, she thinks quickly to come up with creative tactics to get the students’ attention.

“Ms. Suen demonstrates a lot,” says Mrs. Kim Dergosits, a special education aid. She also said Suen shows videos of people demonstrating their current art project for the students, both to entertain and follow along.

Suen said the need to make the  class enjoyable and easy for her students to follow results in self-doubt as a teacher. Often she feels discouraged by her students’ reactions, and cannot tell if they like what they are doing.

However, both students and staff feel differently, and think Suen is a noteworthy teacher.

Tom Atkins, 17, says he always looks forwards to going to FSD everyday because he “loves doing art.”

Dergosits said  the atmosphere of the classroom offers a “sense of comradery” for students. She also emphasized Suen’s “support and encouragement” to them, which makes the class so enjoyable .

Suen is also noted for her patience and calmness, creating a very relaxing and open environment for students to enhance creative skills and abilities.

“The sense of creativity in art is really valuable,” says Dergosits. “They really enjoy the freedom to just be creative themselves.”


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