In the Loop
Alumni News : Mar 13, 2017

SA+AH graduate transforms art program at local high school

By Mandy McDade

When Sara Truman first started her undergraduate career at Western Kentucky University, she had no idea she wanted to pursue a degree in Ceramics. She didn’t even begin working with clay until her junior year, when she had to take 3D studio courses to fulfill a requirement for her painting major. Working with clay was a challenge that Truman welcomed, and after her first foray into the medium, she decided to add a second concentration in Ceramics.

It was a choice that would open many new doors for Truman’s future. After graduating from WKU, Truman came to the University of Florida as a post baccalaureate student in Ceramics.

“As a part of the UF Ceramics family, I have received tailored job recommendations, gallery show invites, and multi-faceted support from my UF peers and mentors,” Truman explained. “Most importantly, I met my wife.”

After completing her one year post bacc program, Truman headed for the University of Mississippi, where she earned her MFA in 2012. When her wife, Naomi Mostkoff (BA Anthropology ’09, BS Nursing ’14), decided to move back to Gainesville to earn her doctorate from UF, Truman took a one-year sabbatical replacement at Florida Gulf Coast University.

“After that I knew I had to make a decision,” Truman recalled. “Did I want to pursue a nomadic lifestyle determined by a string of one-year appointments in academia, or did I want to find something locally?”

It was Truman’s wife who suggested she start looking at jobs at local high schools. Truman had never intended to teach high schoolers, but she decided to look into it anyway.

“It just so happened that the day I started looking for job postings was the day Gainesville High School posted a part-time ceramics position,” Truman said. “I walked into GHS an hour later and was hired on the spot.”

Truman’s hiring was a revival for the once-flourishing 3D art program at GHS, which had suffered in previous years after losing its two full-time art teachers. Truman started at a part-time position, teaching two classes and 33 students total. Now, she teaches full time, with four classes and 156 students.

This complete rebuild of the  3D art program was not easy, but Truman said she employed all the knowledge and skill she had learned at the university-level to make it possible.

“I immediately removed the prerequisite classes that were a barrier to students bogged down by heavy course loads,” Truman explained. “I let the kids get their hands into clay.”

She also created a clay club that meets twice a week, in order to allow any student at the school to get a taste of the medium, regardless of their school schedules.

“We now have a growing program, new equipment from fantastic administrative support, and students choosing to pursue ceramics after high school in their college education,” Truman said. “I have had at least one student at the end of each school year to date earn a full ride to an area college.”

While neither pursuing ceramics nor teaching high school were part of her original plan, Truman loves her job, and has developed a great admiration for people who go into public education and genuinely care about the kids in their classrooms.

“I’ve learned how much my 50 minutes can impact the kids’ day, and it’s a responsibility and privilege I take very serious,” Truman said. “A colleague said in a meeting my first year that he tells every class when they come in that this class period is the best 50 minutes of his day and he wants it to be the be the best 50 minutes of their day. I start my year off telling every class that exact statement for at least the first month of school.”

Since starting at GHS three years ago, Truman has watched students challenge themselves and thrive in the field that she loves, and she’s helped many students with their college applications, letters, essays and scholarships.

Just as the UF Ceramics family helped Truman find her place and offered her support, Truman’s program at GHS is creating a community to help students find their passion and connect with scholarships and job opportunities.

“It’s definitely the most challenging thing I have ever done, and I appreciate it everyday,” Truman said.

Last year, Truman and her wife started Studio TM Pottery and Clay, a community ceramics studio located behind Satchel’s Pizza and the Repurpose Project at 2618 NE 18th Terrace. Together, they create work and teach classes to the community, with the goal of contributing to the local art community and giving Gainesville residents access to clay.

For more information on Studio TM Pottery and Clay, visit their Facebook and Instagram pages. The studio has classes every six weeks, and their spring sale will take place on Saturday, May 13, 2017 from 12-5pm.