teacher feature

Veronica Iria emphasizes expression while expanding Art Department

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"Art is so much more than just looking at something beautiful. What are you trying to say with your artwork?"

SLA’s art department is expanding thanks to our talented teacher Veronica Iria. Now in her second year of teaching, Mrs. Iria is teaching Art 1 and Art 2 to grades 9-12, teaching art to the 7th and 8th graders, and sponsoring the extracurricular Art Club that meets after school.

“My goal is to expose kids to a variety of different art forms. One of the biggest things for me is expression. Expressing themselves in different ways and tap into their creativity with the different projects that they work on,” said Mrs. Iria.

Mrs. Iria likes to talk to her students about the most amazing artist she knows who creates landscapes with a great use of color and is a sculptor too. “Whenever an artist is being inspired to paint a landscape, they’re being inspired by God as an artist,” she said. “One of the projects I have coming up for the 7th and 8th graders, as well as for Art 1, is creating a devotional out of a work of art. That’s one thing that makes me really excited about teaching here at an SDA school is that I can approach a project in that way.”

Another aspect of studying the arts that Mrs. Iria likes to highlight is how it can help in all academic subjects. For instance when students have to decide how to express an idea and what materials would work best to do that they are using their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. For more information about how art improves student outcomes, see the accompanying article, “Fascinating facts about studying the arts.”

Mrs. Iria has plans on how she’d like to grow the art program here. “One of the goals that I would love to do is to bring more specialized classes, so maybe one that’s specifically drawing or one that’s specifically printmaking. I would love to put together a proposal for a kiln and offer a ceramic class.”

Art Club is a new addition this year and that came about because the students from Art 2 initiated the idea. Those students were working on a sculpturing project using found items. One student decided to create a wedding dress from a plastic drop cloth. It sparked discussion in the class about what this piece of art could mean. “Art is so much more than just looking at something beautiful. What are you trying to say with your artwork?” said Mrs. Iria. “This project that started as ‘it’s going to be cool to make a wedding dress out of plastic’ turned into a whole commentary on marriage and how society nowadays looks at marriage as something you can just throw out.”

Besides working on personal choice projects under the guidance of Mrs. Iria, the Art Club also participated in Impact New Bedford in September and painted a mural for the evangelistic event. Since then, they’ve been asked to paint many other murals as well and had to even turn down some requests due to time. This after-school club meets for an hour twice a week.

Mrs. Iria left an unsatisfying career in finance to pursue art when she realized how happy she was working with kids and preparing art projects for Adventurers and Pathfinders. “That’s what a career should be, something that you enjoy doing every day and doesn’t feel like work.”

She re-enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell in 2013, where she had studied marketing and management for three years before starting her family, to study art full-time. She studied many art forms--sculpture, painting, drawing, illustrating, graphic design and printmaking--so that she would have a broad background to teach art. She graduated this last May and splits her time teaching art part-time at both SLA and Greater Boston Academy.

Mrs. Iria and her husband, Paul, a production planner for Laser Services in Westford, have two children. Daughter Elena graduated from SLA in 2017 and now attends Southern Adventist University and son Miguel is a 9th grader at SLA.

Watch for students’ art work to be on display in the loft in the academy building near the end of the school year.

Kindergarten teacher's goal is building hearts for eternity

Stephanie Chitu (pronounced key-too), our new kindergarten teacher, has spent her career teaching in the public school system and homeschooling her own children. SLA is the fourth school she’s taught at and the first one that is a Christian school.

“It’s been the best place I’ve taught so far,” says Mrs. Chitu.

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“We’re shaping their little minds and characters. That’s the whole goal, otherwise we’d send them to public school, otherwise we’d teach in public school.”

 “I really like the term, Building for Eternity (SLA’s capital campaign), because I feel like that’s our goal. It’s what we should be doing as teachers here in a Christian school is building them up for eternity,” says Mrs. Chitu. “We’re shaping their little minds and characters. That’s the whole goal, otherwise we’d send them to public school, otherwise we’d teach in public school.”

A lifelong Southerner, Mrs. Chitu and her family moved to Massachusetts from Georgia in May 2016. Her husband, Ben, was working as a paramedic and taking classes to become a physician assistant (PA). They were interested in a PA program in Manchester, NH and visited the area. They decided SLA was a good fit for their children as well and moved here.

Their two oldest children, Scarlett and Landon, began attending SLA last year, and now are in 5th grade and 2nd grade. Their youngest, Bella, began PreK this fall.

“Then this opened up and it seemed like the right time to apply. Ben wasn’t working; he’s in school full-time, so I felt like God opened up the door for me to come and have the position,” says Mrs. Chitu.

Mrs. Chitu got into teaching because it’s one job where you can make a difference. “You’re not just clocking in 9-5, you know. The students always remember their teachers. That just motivated me,” she says. “I love the students, just being with them, being able to influence their learning, just who they are. Especially in a Christian school you have a chance to actually be involved in their thinking, their morals, their Bible, how they view God.”

In addition to teaching and raising her children, Mrs. Chitu is an avid ice skater. She began skating when she was 17, progressed through all the levels and became a coach as well. She performed in The Nutcracker on Ice for a few years in Tennessee. She even had the thrill of performing in it when it aired on PBS one year.

Mrs. Chitu continues to skate most Sunday afternoons with her family. They also enjoy hiking, camping, biking and visiting sites in New England.

Being a good role is aim for 1st grade teacher

Rebecca Raposo, new first grade teacher.

Rebecca Raposo, new first grade teacher.

Rebecca Raposo was doing her student teaching in a high-poverty area and saw that the community subtly pressured the children to only be as good as their surroundings and discouraged them from aiming toward higher goals.

“That was the first time I realized I could be a positive role model in those kids’ lives and I could do something. Help them push past their social standards,” said Ms. Raposo. “That was when I fell in love with teaching and ever since then that has driven me. With God’s help I can make a difference.”

Rebecca is our new first grade teacher but is a familiar face on the campus at South Lancaster Academy. “A lot of the people I work with now were my teachers in high school,” said Ms. Raposo, who is a 2009 graduate. “In my mind they’re Mr. Lambert and Mrs. Robidoux, but now they’re like, ‘Call me Jeff. Call me Theresa.’”

Rebecca came to SLA as a sophomore and attended through her senior year. She was a member of the National Honor Society and enjoyed running in cross country.

“I had a great time,” said Ms. Raposo. “I still have friends to this day that I made back then.”

Ms. Raposo went to earn an education degree from Washington Adventist University. You will most likely find her at school early in the morning and working late in the evening as she’s establishing her classroom, grading papers and preparing for the next day of learning.

When she can fit it in, Ms. Raposo enjoys travel and anything outdoors, including hiking, biking kayaking and camping. She spent this last summer on a backpacking trip through Europe with five other female friends. She’s been to 15 countries so far.

Ms. Raposo is eager to see her students develop spiritually and academically while enjoying their experience at SLA. “I like knowing that my kids are learning and having fun at the same time,” she said.