Sunday, April 14, 2024

Longtime middle school art educator Nanette Reed to retire

Whitefish Pilot | April 3, 2024 12:00 AM

After spending 34 years at Whitefish Middle School, 29 of them as an art teacher, Nanette Reed will retire at the end of the school year. After tallying up the time she spent as a student and as a teacher at the school, she described the total as a “big chunk of my life.”

“It's been a great job. I can’t think of anything else I would have rather done,”  Reed said of her time at the middle school. “It's been a huge team effort. Everyone is super supportive and helpful and we all care about our kids.”

Something that unites everyone is the school’s motto: WMS – working hard, making good choices and showing kindness and respect. Reed said it guides the faculty, staff and students daily.

“That philosophy, I have really appreciated and embraced. I think everyone who works here embraces that,” she said. “Middle school kids are all over the map, we’re all at different levels and we are all coming from different homes, so that is our stabilizer.”

She said the goal is to be kind and respectful to everyone each day.

“If we mess up on one day, like we all do, tomorrow you have another chance to do it better,” she said. “I think that’s really important in middle school and we do a good job here, as a team, of reinforcing that — that we just need to be the best person we can be each day.”

One way Reed supports that objective in her classes is by not typically assigning letter grades to the students’ work. She is hopeful that students feel a sense of freedom and that they embrace the ability to try new things without fear of making mistakes. 

“There just aren't mistakes,” she said. “We need to be able to explore without being graded.”

When she does grade artwork, she makes it clear that she is assessing only the parameters of the project.

According to a report by the Montana Arts Council, less than half of Montana school districts treat the arts as core curriculum and just 61% of the schools responding to the survey offer visual arts experiences to students.

“Some [students] don’t like to pursue their artistic side, but maybe this is the last opportunity that they’ll take an art class ever in their life,” she said. “That just seems tragic to me.”

In a persuasive essay for her English class, Adalai Neufeld, a sixth grader, addressed the need for art education. 

She wrote, “Schools should require art classes because people can express their feelings through art, art can be very useful at times and expressing your emotions makes you feel healthier and happier.”

REED’S ROOTS in Whitefish are deep. She said she enjoyed the rhythm that came with having both parents work as educators; they worked hard during the year and played hard during the summer.

Her father worked as an English teacher and football coach before serving as the principal of the middle school for over 20 years. Her mother taught at Muldown for about 25 years. At first, Reed thought she’d take a different path.

“I was hoping to be an architect, so I went to Bozeman,” Reed said. “Then I decided I wanted to be an art educator and you had to get that degree in Missoula, so I actually went to both schools.”

After graduating, she lived in Detroit for a few years and experienced corporate America.

“It was a good eye-opening experience for us, because growing up here, we didn't have that opportunity for big industry and big business,” she said. 

Reed moved back to Whitefish in 1992 with her young daughter and gradually began working her way into a full-time position at the middle school.

Now, Reed’s daughter lives in Nevada and enjoys the outdoor lifestyle that the warm, sunny climate affords. Likewise, once retired, Reed is looking forward to being able to spend time in Moab, Utah, mountain biking. She’d also like to spend time painting.

“I’m just so busy with my day, exercising and teaching school, that I don't make time to explore my creativity but I do hope to do that when I retire,” Reed said. “I’m going to give myself six months to just be, do more yoga, ride my mountain bike fast, explore new trails, literally and figuratively.

“I live my philosophy – just do the best I can every day,” she added.