New hopes for Pioneer art department after retirement of beloved teacher


This past summer, beloved Pioneer Ceramics and Art History teacher Mr Benedict retired, leaving a hole within the structure of the department. As the 2019-20 school year begins without this leading figure, the Pioneer Art department moves forward with plans for the future.

“ [Benedict] was just a fountain of knowledge,” Pioneer English teacher Debra  Fitzgerald said, reflecting on the time when they had been classroom neighbors. “The guy gave some of the most interesting, colorful lectures I’ve heard.”

She is not alone in thinking this. Pioneer alumni Dabao Zhang, who had Benedict as his Art History teacher in his senior year Humanities class, said, “Mr. Benedict’s lectures were one of my favorite parts of being in the Humanities class. They really gave me a different perspective when I looked at art, [which] I had previously lacked appreciation for.”

This year, Pioneer Arts teacher Helen Bunch will be taking up Benedict’s position as department chair. The retirement of a respected Art teacher prompts the potential of the number of students in the art department dropping to his leave. Despite losing a very influential figure in the Pioneer Arts program, Bunch is optimistic about the future of the department. “Our belief is that if we keep our projects good, the kids will be interested. We make sure we show well at art shows, and we keep the student website updated so a student can see what we produce in this program and we can continue getting a consistent enrollment.”

James Howe, Pioneer’s new Ceramics teacher, also has high hopes for a steady number of Art students in the years ahead. “Many kids who sign up for Art classes here at Pioneer have a genuine interest in art,” he said. “Our program here is very strong . . . we send students to Art schools all across the country. Getting students into our classes here is not difficult.” 

Maribeth Sonsara, the new Graphic Design teacher who is taking over another one of Bendict’s past positions, is slightly overwhelmed by the big shoes she has to fill in Benedict’s wake. However, she is hopeful for her future at Pioneer. “He (Mr Benedict) has been doing it for so long that it’s almost become like a performance for him.Whereas, I’m doing everything for the first time and am figuring it all out. But I’m glad I have such an incredibly supportive team and the students are amazing. I’m hopeful it’s going to keep getting better and better from here.”

In addition to the leave of Benedict, the increasing pressure on students for academic credential towards colleges brings up the question of decreasing art students. Sonsara believes that being in an Art class can teach far more than just learning the craft. “One thing that Art classes teach are the problem solving skills, and I think problem solving and creativity are the  highest in-demand qualities in employers today.”

Bunch shares a similar viewpoint. “Art is probably more relevant now than ever before. People are finding that companies can replace you very easily, but they have not been able to replace the creative edge,” she said. “Even if you’re not Art school bound, it’s good to understand the process of creative thinking.”

In addition, Bunch plans on getting all students to produce a website, which they can then use as a portfolio when applying to art schools. “The goal of the website would be so that when a student comes out of the art program, they will be art school ready,” she said. “It can also count towards the extracurricular aspect for colleges that want to know what students do outside of academics.”

Linda Yang, a current sophomore student in the Art Department, has high hopes for the next few years. “The Art Program here is pretty strong in my opinion, and I’m looking forward to learning and growing from it during my time here.”