Teacher is leaving the building, not the Island

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Stephanie Sareyani retires at the end of the school term after a 28-year career as art teacher in the district.

When Stephanie Sareyani was 9 she announced she was going to be the art teacher at Shelter Island School.

She had spent summer vacations here with her family, staying at Cards Cabins, planting her Shelter Island roots then and there.

When years later she told a school superintendent she wanted the job, he said it was filled and she should look elsewhere. But that didn’t stop her,

She enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design, earning a master’s degree, and took a year off to do relief work in the Azores, then settled in New York City. But ultimately, Shelter Island called to her and for the past 28 years of her 30-year teaching career, she’s been the art teacher here. She also helped write the New York State standards for lessons.

It may be why she can say today she’s never done the same lesson twice with her students.

One of the special things about art is it encompasses students from all grades, Ms. Sareyani said, and that’s part of what has kept her experience fresh day after day.

At the end of this month, she’ll end her teaching career. “I’m leaving the building, but I’m not leaving the Island,” she said. She also speculated she’d be back as a substitute from time to time.

Everybody helps one another here, which makes the place special, Ms. Sareyani said.

Through the years, she’s worked with nine superintendents and said all have been supportive of the visual arts.

“I’ve learned a lesson that sometimes the most difficult kids or situations turn out the best,” she said.

What’s ahead for the woman who will no longer have to be up for the early start of each school day?

“I want to play with my puppies and enjoy my grandchildren,” she said. She also likes working with clay and expects to continue to create her own art work.

What won’t she miss? Having to eat lunch at 9:30 a.m. and teaching home economics — something the school’s art teacher has to do.

But teaching home economics is also teaching life skills, she added. For that reason, she devotes what she calls her “Oprah moments or 15 minutes of my wisdom” to her students, discussing such subjects as what the meaning of happiness is.

She’s grateful for having had the opportunity to pursue her dream job all these years, saying, “I’m dreading the last day.”

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