By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh is credited with saying, “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.”
Amanda Francescato feels the same way about art.
“Art is all around us,” she says. “You get to look at it every day, and I think it’s something important that kids need in school. It allows students to express themselves and problem solve without even realizing it. They get to be creative, and that’s the best part of it all.”
For Francescato, art has always been both fun and therapeutic. When she’s drawing or painting, she forgets about everything else. It’s a way to relax while also feeling a sense of accomplishment.
“When I get bored, I paint. When I feel stressed, I paint. It just keeps my mind off other things,” she said.
Although art had long been a hobby, the benefits became more clear to her during high school. With support and encouragement from Hershey Public Schools art teacher Brittney Stenger, she started viewing it as a potential career.
“I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to go to college at first, but she really inspired me,” Francescato said. “I thought teaching was the coolest job ever. You get to hang out with kids and you get to teach them and watch them grow.”
After high school, Francescato enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she continued to pursue this professional goal.
As an art education major and photography minor, Francescato benefited from the smaller class sizes, personalized instruction and one-on-one interactions with faculty members.
“That’s something I enjoy a lot, being in a smaller classroom, because I feel like I learn better that way,” she said. “The professors were always really helpful. If you have a question, they’re on top of it. They help you overcome any obstacles that you may face.”
Along with the UNK faculty, Francescato was able to learn from teachers and school administrators currently working in the field. These professionals came to campus to meet with UNK students, and Lopers went to their classrooms for field experiences.
Francescato had the opportunity to observe teachers and lead lessons at Kenwood Elementary School in Kearney and Holdrege Middle School, giving her valuable knowledge and skills. This helped prepare her for a semester of student teaching at Wallace Public School.
Working alongside cooperating teacher Melissa Nelms, Francescato got to do a little bit of everything at the small district located about 30 miles south of her hometown.
“She basically handed the classroom over to me,” said Francescato, who taught pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
“I definitely gained a lot of confidence,” she added. “There’s always this thought in the back of your mind, ‘Can I actually teach this many kids in one room? Can I control it?’ But it gave me the confidence that, yeah, I can do this. I know my stuff. And they want to learn from me. They loved having me there, and I think that helped me grow as an educator.”
Francescato enjoyed watching her students make the same progress. For instance, she challenged a high school class to create watercolor landscapes, a project they were slow to embrace.
“They kind of hated me for it,” she said with a laugh.
However, Francescato walked them through the process and used some of her own artwork as examples. In the end, one of the student-created pieces was selected as the main design for the school’s new Art Club sweatshirts.
“I thought that was kind of neat,” Francescato said. “I taught a lesson that they put on a sweatshirt for everyone to see.”
In addition to her classroom duties, Francescato helped the Art Club repaint a mural at the local veterans memorial, assisted at a Family Art Night and volunteered at fundraisers for the art department, junior class and Quiz Bowl team.
Nelms called her a “very dedicated” teacher who’s not afraid to go above and beyond to support students.
“Amanda brought a very positive attitude and new, enriching lessons to the classroom,” Nelms said. “She created a great rapport with students and was able to communicate with them at an effective level. She did great as a student teacher and her future in the teaching profession is promising. Any school district would be very lucky to have her be part of their team.”
Francescato received a Bachelor of Arts in Education during Friday’s winter commencement ceremony, making her the first member of her family to earn a four-year degree. Fittingly, she wore a dress covered in drawings from young Wallace Public School art students and a cap that read, “Time to Gogh Teach.”
“It’s been fun,” Francescato said of her time at UNK. “It was definitely a learning experience. It got me out of my comfort zone, and I really enjoy being in environments that allow me to grow and learn.”
Francescato plans to substitute teach this spring before starting a full-time position.
“I hope I can show students that art is fun and prove that they can do whatever they put their mind to,” she said.