Three decades made a difference

Lorrine Lee received the 2011 art educator of the year award by the Washington Art Education Association. She retired from teaching art at Olympic High School last year.  - Kristin Okinaka
Lorrine Lee received the 2011 art educator of the year award by the Washington Art Education Association. She retired from teaching art at Olympic High School last year.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka

Lorinne Lee was very protective of the art supplies, but one day she gave one of her students at Olympic High School, Gretchen Batcheller, the key to retrieve her own materials.

Her students called the storage room of art supplies, “J.K. Gill,” after the supply store off of Wheaton Way at the time.

“I don’t think she knew that we called it that,” said Batcheller, now 37. “The first day I got my own oil pastels was a really big day.”

Aside from her fantastic sense of humor, former students like Batcheller say Lee helped them get to where they are today because of what she taught them in the art classroom — some recently and others years ago.

The retired art teacher received the 2011 Supervision and Administration Art Educator of the Year award by the Washington Art Education Association and was recognized at a Central Kitsap School Board meeting in January.

After 32 years of teaching art in the Central Kitsap School District — all years at Olympic — Lee retired last school year. Although retired from teaching in the classroom, Lee continues to teach through being the curriculum art specialist for the district. She helps teachers with curriculum ideas to bring back to the classrooms.

“Once you become a teacher, you’re always teaching,” Lee said Monday.

Lee has calculated that she has taught more than 10,000 students including in both foundation classes such as painting, drawing, stained glass and pottery as well as Advanced Placement art history and Advanced Placement studio art.

For Batcheller, who graduated from Olympic in 1992, art came way to her while she was undergoing treatment for leukemia as a high school student. Batcheller is an assistant professor in painting and drawing at Roanoke College in Virginia. She said Lee quickly recognized her aptitude for art as a student and allowed all her students to explore and take risks with the materials. It didn’t matter if the student was a beginner or a seasoned artist.

“I felt very unrestricted in that room,” Batcheller said. “I felt like it was my own studio even though it was her classroom.”

Christian Thomas, who graduated in 2010, said Lee was good at introducing students to new concepts and ideas and wasn’t afraid to critique them. He is living in Bremerton and in his second year at Northwest College of the Art majoring in entertainment art and fine art.

Lee has been in education for a total of 40 years. She started as a reading and math specialist in California before coming to Kitsap County where she worked at the Bremerton School District also as a reading and math specialist before working as an art teacher at Olympic.

Art had always been close to her heart. She said allowing students to embrace art is important because it provides them with another voice to express themselves. After all, a child’s “first words” are through scribbling or drawing, she said.

In addition to art being a tool for expression, Lee said it helps students with their analytical thinking when they have to discuss their artwork. She also added that it is important to encourage students to explore how their art can have an affect on their community or culture.

“Art speaks to people,” she said.

Her passion for art has always been apparent to her students.

Kierra Neher, a sophomore at the University of Washington who graduated from Olympic in 2010, said Lee’s art classes were her first formal art training. She’s considering majoring in sculpture or biology — or both.

“Ms. Lee was always so enthusiastic,” said Neher.”She really wanted her students to succeed and was always willing to share what she knew about it.”

Not only did Lee’s enthusiasm emit onto her students, but also onto other teachers as well.

Kathy Kettwig was an English teacher at Olympic and also retired last school year. She taught at the school for 30 years with Lee.

Not only were the two teachers chairs of their prospective departments, they also collaborated on projects together since they shared many of the same students in their classes. Kettwig said that Lee also worked with others outside of humanities classes such as biology and math teachers.

“She’s very interested in reaching out to everybody,” Kettwig said.

Kettwig said that Lee pushed for showcasing students’ artwork beyond the classroom and district, which was inspiring for other teachers. She also sought out grants and would always share with her students information on exhibitions or other opportunities.

As far as her own work goes, Lee is currently working on a kimono series project of watercolor and acrylics. She’s also into photography and plans to have a photography show in about a year.

But, above all, she wants to keep academics alive.

In addition to her responsibilities in the district, she is also involved with the Professional Materials Committee with the National Art Education Association. And of course, she makes time to keep in touch with former students and even catches up with the ones who live nearby with coffee or going to their art shows.

“If I had to do teaching all over again, I would do teaching over again,” Lee said.


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