Oysterponds School District

The Work We Do: Laurie Sanders, Oysterponds Elementary School

Hi, I’m Laurie Sanders. I’m a special education and art teacher at Oysterponds Elementary School. 

I went to school to be a pastry chef at Johnson and Wales University. I did that as a career for many years and raised my children. Then I decided, when my youngest was in kindergarten, that I needed to go back to school. People kept asking me if I was an art teacher because I was learning about decorative painting.

So I went back to school and got a teaching degree. I had to start from square one. I did a joint schooling program with St. [Joseph’s College in Patchogue] and Suffolk [County Community College]. Then, I started as a leave replacement at Oysterponds, then I went into being a teaching assistant for two years, working in special eduction. Now, this is my fourth year working in art. So I have half a day with special education and I teach the entire school art the other half of the day throughout the week.

Working with students, it’s a small school and you get to know all of the children and you get to know about what makes them tick, what their hobbies are, what do they love and you work with that. As far as the special education students go, they don’t have the confidence that other students sometimes have. Sometimes, it takes them longer to learn the same thing. But when I make the connection with art, they usually excel. … that’s where they’re almost equal to, or higher than, their peers.

I try to book a few field trips depending on the budget. I love going to the Parrish Art Museum with them. I usually pick a younger grade and an older grade and take the two together.

Our superintendent is phenomenal, he’s open to any suggestion. He lets us bring in local artists. I’ve had a muralist in, I’ve had stained-glass artists come in. In May, I’ll have an artist coming from upstate who teaches clay.

We write narratives for our report cards instead of giving students an “E” or “S,” like most schools do. The kids come in and they’re like, “you said in your narrative that I was an artist.” I go, “you are.”

My job is to teach them to love art, to learn about all the different careers, to have fun with it.

I have the best position, I have the best of both worlds.

“The Work We Do” is a Suffolk Times multimedia project profiling workers around the North Fork. It is made possible by Peconic Landing. See more photos every Monday on Instagram @thesuffolktimes.