Photo Caption: Sandra W. Darden, who won a statewide art education award, said, “I enjoy having kids ask, ‘Why?’ I enjoy when I see curiosity come out in the kids.” [Photo taken by James Thomas/For The Virginian-Pilot]
The awards just keep piling up for King’s Fork Middle School art teacher Sandra W. Darden.
The Suffolk art educator recently won the Virginia Art Education Association's State Middle Division Art Educator award. This recognition follows Darden being named Suffolk middle school division Teacher of the Year in 2015, King's Fork Middle School Teacher of the Year in 2014 and Tidewater Region Middle School Art Educator in 2007-08.
The most recent award was presented on Oct. 27 at the Art Education Association state conference in Midlothian. The association divides the state into five regions, and Darden was among the five regional finalists.
“It makes me feel honored for people to think that I’m doing a really good job,” Darden said. “I feel like I was competing against the people who I respect the most, so it means a lot to me.”
The annual state award is based on what an educator has demonstrated to advance the profession, Darden said. “It’s an educator’s award, not a teacher’s award. It’s what I’m doing to make my profession the best it can be.
“That means giving back to my profession, creating workshops, creating best practices for other art teachers — lesson plans, professional development and writing curricula.”
Darden is an active participant in both the Virginia Art Education Association and the National Art Education Association, according to press releases from Suffolk Public Schools. She is a National Board-certified teacher who has written curriculum for Suffolk Public Schools and helped develop the Suffolk Public Schools Art Education Manual.
Born abroad and from a military family, she adopts her parent’s Kentucky roots, calling the area home. She has taught art at King's Fork Middle since it opened in 2001. She taught at Franklin High School in Franklin in 2000 and in a Northern Virginia school system for 10 years.
Though proud of her most recent award, Darden said her most fulfilling moment was being chosen 2014 King's Fork Middle School Teacher of the Year. “There’s nothing like when all of your co-workers get together and say we want to single you out,” Darden said. “I work with these people every day. That was a shining moment in my life.”
The award-winning teacher has displayed her artwork and her students' in various art exhibitions. She prefers chalk pastels, acrylics and mixed media. Her students' works include various paint media and sculptures. She encourages them to be critical thinkers in their creations.
“I have a passion for art, and I think that bleeds through when I teach,” she said. “I enjoy having kids ask, ‘Why?’ I enjoy when I see curiosity come out in the kids, and they become creative and critical thinkers.”
Suffolk Art League Executive Director Linda Bunch called Darden “an inspiring teacher and very deserving of her award.” Bunch noted that Darden’s summer art camp at the league challenges students because they are given projects that can take several days.
Darden is always willing to step in where needed, “including organizing onsite events during a VAEA state-wide professional development conference in Norfolk and Virginia Beach,” wrote Virginia Art Education Association Executive Secretary Peggy Wood in an email. “Sandee is an asset to her students, her region and to art education across the state.”
The 2018 Middle Division award qualifies Darden to compete against top state winners for the U.S. Southeastern division art educator award and ultimately the U.S. National award.
Full name: Sandra Willis Darden
Marital status: Married to Jack Darden with stepdaughters, Miranda Willem and Meredith Kelly
Pets: A mean ol’ cat, a grumpy cat.
Occupation: Art teacher
Education: Bachelor's degree in art, George Mason University, 1984; teachers certification, University of Mary Washington, 1991; master's degree in art (painting and sculpture), Virginia Commonwealth University, 2001; National Board Certification for teachers, 2008.
Community service: Member of Possum Hollow Ruritans
Church affiliation: Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church
What do you enjoy most about what you do? I enjoy when I see curiosity come out in a kid and when they become critical thinkers. You have to be creative.
What is the greatest challenge you face doing what you do? Keeping current.
What do you love most about the people you work/volunteer with? I love the fact that I have a second family.
Favorite movie(s): I just re-watched "Avatar." It was so artistic and creative and really took you to another world. I’m also a Trekkie; I love "Star Wars."
Pet peeve: Mean people
Hobbies: I belong to a group of couples called Winos. We’ve been meeting 15 years. I also love to read and spend time with my grandchildren.
Comfort food: Love Italian, Chinese and sour gummy worms.
The song you’re most likely to be caught singing: I love any music that is live from bluegrass to opera, not TV-watching so much.
What is your personal motto? Keep current.
Words of wisdom you’d share with someone interested in doing what you do: Teaching is different today; you have to really want it.