Former Niles resident wins teaching award

A Southwestern Michigan College alumnus who instructs visual arts at St. Joseph’s Upton Middle School won his second Ann Hamilton Award for Inspired Teaching based on his students’ outstanding achievements in the Scholastic Art Awards.

Joseph Fralick, originally from Niles, received the award Feb. 8 at the South Bend Museum of Art.

Twenty-three of 49 student entries won awards, including nine gold, seven silver and seven honorable mentions. Educators are selected based on a formula using the number of student entries and the number of awards, taking into consideration school size.

Fralick attended SMC from fall 1996-spring 1998.

“My favorite memories of SMC center around the art department,” Fralick said. “I started off working towards a degree in graphic design, but changed course once I took a painting class taught by David Baker. I realized right then I didn’t want to play with types and font any longer.

“Overall,” Fralick added, “attending SMC was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Truth be told, I wasn’t ready for a four-year school. After SMC, I went to Western Michigan University, where I earned my bachelor’s (2001) and master’s (2006) degrees in art education.”

Starting his career part-time at Portage Northern High School, Fralick taught ceramics, drawing and jewelry.

“I found out I was really good at jewelry,” he said, “even though I’d never taken a jewelry class. My background in the automotive field really helped. Plus, jewelry is just sculpture on a smaller scale.”

Laid off by Portage Public Schools (PPS) after his first year, Fralick accepted a Climax-Scotts teaching position.

“I feel like I really learned a lot about myself teaching there,” he said. “I was the only art teacher in the whole district. I taught nearly every kid from fourth grade through high school. After a few years at C-S Schools, PPS came calling back. They needed a jewelry instructor to take over mid-year at Central High School. I felt like it was a no-brainer. In general, teachers don’t make a ton of money. But Portage paid much more than tiny Climax-Scotts. I made the jump and had a blast teaching drawing and jewelry classes. I had other art teachers to help guide me into becoming a better teacher.”

Unfortunately, Fralick got laid off again.

“I really felt defeated at that point,” he said. “I know now It wasn’t my fault. It was just how the system worked. Last one in, first one out. That summer, there were not a ton of job openings in the area. I always saw myself as a high school teacher, so I was reluctant to accept a position at E.P. Clarke Elementary” in St. Joseph.

He spent one year at Clarke before moving up to Upton Middle School.

“Once there, I felt like a fish in water,” recalls Fralick, who also coaches cross country. “Middle school kids are super capable, but also free, like little kids. I’m not sure if they have the same pressure to be ‘cool.’ I’ve been there now for almost 10 years. I occasionally have taught at the high school when needed, but I feel most at home at the middle school.”

He has been participating in the Scholastic Art competition since joining St. Joseph Public Schools.

“It is a very tough, prestigious competition,” he said. “Each year it is different. It was only three or four years ago I had only three entries accepted. You can’t always know what judges are looking for. Plus, these kids who enter are all so talented. I think they are much more advanced than I was at their age.”

“I’ve won the Ann Hamilton Award twice now. It feels really great to be recognized amongst your peers,” he said. “In the visual arts we don’t have assessments like the MEAP. So, I look at the art competition to see how my program is doing. With almost 50 percent of our entries winning awards, I’d say we’re on the right track. Overall, St. Joseph Schools has an amazing art program. To be fair, it’s an amazing school district.”

Gold winners advance to New York for further national-level judging.

“I’ve had two kids win national awards the last two years,” said Fralick, who gets to keep his “pretty snazzy glass trophy that has a blown-glass look.”

Baker said Fralick “participated in several SMC art exhibits — the foundation fundraiser at the Schultz home on Diamond Lake in 2011, a gallery alumni exhibit in 2011” and, last November, his self-portrait in “Bridging the Arts: An Invitational Exhibition of Works by Regional K-12 Art Instructors.”

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