AU grad Chad DiFranco enjoying teaching new arts classes at his Amherst high school
Principal Joe Tellier wasn’t worried how adding new ceramics and sculpture classes would go at Marion L. Steele High School in Amherst with art teacher and Ashland University graduate Chad DiFranco leading the way.
“Not only did he add these courses, but when the idea of creating an Advanced Placement (AP) Studio Art was beginning, he volunteered to teach it and gave up a week in the summer to get trained on the intricacies of this new rigorous art class,” Tellier said. “He also waives his plan period (time off) and teaches art all day. Besides a 30-minute lunch, Chad goes from 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. non-stop.
“He agrees to do this because so many of our students want to take art classes and there are not enough periods in the day to get them all in,” added Tellier, also an AU grad.
If there were more staffing and space, DiFranco said he would love to have photography and printmaking classes, too.
For now, DiFranco and Tellier are happy with how the Intro to Ceramics (last semester) and Ceramics II (this semester) classes are going.
The classes have been “extremely popular so far” DiFranco said because he believes the education system has focused so much on state testing and the core subjects that kids are yearning to be creative and seeking classes that are not so rigid.
Because he has some students who have not done art before taking ceramics, DiFranco plans to make Art I a prerequisite for the new classes next school year.
“They love to come to the art room and create,” DiFranco added. “They love having the ability to produce projects and not have a written test based on content. Kids do not have many opportunities to get their hands dirty in school anymore. When I grew up, you had fine arts, industrial arts, home economics and culinary classes to name a few.”
DiFranco attended Midview High School in Grafton in the late 1980s and early 1990s and then received his Bachelor of Science in Art Education K-12 from AU in 1996.
Because it was only about an hour from his home, had a good art program and was a small university where he could play football, DiFranco said he chose AU for college.
He played defensive back for the Eagles and has coached football at several schools since graduating from Ashland University. He also has coached some girls basketball, too.
He still has contact with a lot of his teammates and friends from Ashland, many of whom also went into education and are coaching now.
Even though most of the people who influenced him at AU are no longer at the university, he said he hasn’t forgotten how much they helped him build a successful career in coaching and teaching art.
“I became interested in art at a young age,” DiFranco said. “I took art all four years at Midview and I thought it was something I would make a career out of in some way by the time I graduated from high school. I was not sure what area of art I wanted to get into but Ashland has a very good education program and that helped make my decision easier once I started taking classes at Ashland.
“I loved my time at Ashland,” he added. “It was a great place to live and learn.”
Tellier also loved his time at AU. In addition to his Bachelor of Science in Education, he received his principal and superintendent licenses from Ashland. After teaching math for 16 years at Vermilion High School, Tellier became the assistant principal there for six years.
When Tellier came to Steele High School five years ago as its principal, it was a reunion of sorts for him and DiFranco. They both attended AU from 1992 to 1996.
Having Tellier and the rest of the administration at Amherst Exempted Village Schools support the arts and always willing to add more electives to the curriculum has been nice to see, DiFranco said.
“They realize the value in the arts and they also realize that our students need hands-on-type classes,” he said.
The major reason some students come to school every day, Tellier said, is because of DiFranco.
“His relaxed personality and love he shows his students is second to none,” Tellier said. “Not all students come to learn math, science or social studies. Many students come to school for the arts and music. If it was not for the additional courses we offer outside the core, some students would not enjoy school nearly as much as they do.”