Life often has a funny way of moving in circles. This was the case for Bridget Nadolski, a nearly lifelong Portage resident with a fulfilling teaching career. Though born in California, Nadolski’s moved with her family to the Portage area when she was a year old. As a child she attended Central Elementary School until 4th grade before her family moved to the other side of town, transplanting her to Myers Elementary School. Thirty-two years ago, Nadolski began her teaching career at Central Elementary, and 15 years ago she started teaching art at Myers Elementary.
“It’s funny because it’s the same pattern,” Nadolski said. “Working in Portage, where I grew up and received my education, I love it. It’s great because I know the community. I know the people, I know the families, I’m comfortable with the neighborhoods. I feel like I have my personal history to offer when I’m teaching Portage students.”
Nadolski teaches art full time at Myers Elementary, plus one day a week of five classes at Aylesworth Elementary.
“I knew I wanted to be an art teacher in 5th grade,” she said. “My art teacher and mentor, Nancy Witt, inspired me. I thought she was so great, and I wanted to do the same thing. I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I decided on that, and I followed through.”
Witt, a Portage resident herself, has since retired from teaching, but Nadolski became good friends with her over the years, and the two remain close to this day.
“I’ve always loved my job. I can’t really think of a time when I haven’t. It’s the best of both worlds, it’s the best job in the world,” Nadolski said. “Especially in elementary school, where I have the students for six years. I get to see them grow over the years, I get to see where they start and where they’re going. Whereas I think a regular classroom teacher won’t get to see that progression as much.”
From an educator’s perspective, art is a special subject to teach.
“People always ask me, is it easier teaching art? And I always say, no, not easier. It’s just different. It’s more project-based and that’s what I love about it,” Nadolski said. “I’ve been a classroom teacher and an art teacher. I really, truly feel that anything I taught in the classroom I can teach through art in some way.
“I feel that art encompasses a lot of obvious lessons—art is math, art is writing, art is self-expression,” she continued. “Art is therapy. Even for adults right now, picking up an artistic project teaches them something. This is a high-stress time. Art is a way to escape all this anxiety, and for children it’s a way to help them cope with what’s happening in the world, things they don’t understand.”
Seeing students learn through art is eye opening, too.
“I’ve always felt that art is one of the most important things a child can study in school, especially from an early age. In the classroom, students often have to focus on testing and reaching certain standards. In the art room, we can move beyond those standards and encourage them to reach for different results,” Nadolski said.
“I also feel that, in the classroom, a child may struggle with reading or writing and feel behind,” she added. “When they get in my art room, they’re able to focus and express themselves through their hands. It’s a whole other outlet for a child to succeed. I teach a lot of children with learning disabilities, and once they get in the art room, they no longer have a disability. They want to succeed and create through art, and that inhibition disappears in their desire to just create.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing schools to adhere to eLearning for at least the remainder of the school year, students and parents are finding a newfound appreciation for the artistic projects Nadolski has spearheaded with her colleagues. The projects give students an artistic outlet, and parents can rest easy knowing an activity is occupying their child’s time.
“It’s been going very well. It’s a learning experience for all teachers,” Nadolski said of the virtual lessons, “and it’s quite a challenge to figure out how to keep students engaged online. I think it’s been a good experience, and as it goes on, we are learning new ways to keep in touch with students and communicate with them.”
Nadolski has engaged her students largely through her classroom Facebook page (click here to follow her class’ incredible projects), keeping their attention through detailed lesson plans, live Facebook chats and classroom Zoom calls, and additional resources for families in quarantine. Her students make videos of themselves working on their lessons, and share photos of their finished products, which Nadolski often puts in a slideshow. One lesson involved all the art teachers giving a tutorial on how to make a certain character from “The Lion King” (Nadolski walked through illustrating Pumbaa). This activity was especially popular, and Nadolski said she’s since received a lot of reach-outs from students and parents asking for similar tutorials.
“We’ve been having to keep things more simple, too, because we have to keep in mind that some students have limited resources at home,” Nadolski said. “Some kids may not even have crayons—we just don’t know. So we typically rely on paper and pencil, and the iPads the school provided.”
Nadolski has a lot of experience navigating the use of technology to teach art. In 2014, she and her colleague Amanda Sheffer, also an art teacher for Portage Township School Corporation, were selected to present at the National Art Education Association (NAEA) Conference called Spark! Fusing Innovative Teaching and Emerging Technologies.
“We represented Portage Township Schools for piloting the use of iPads in the K-8 art rooms as part of our curriculum,” Nadolski said. “It was unique for a school system to pilot technology in the arts, in a time where many art programs were cut because of funding.”
She credited the school system, particularly late superintendent “Doc” E. Ric Frataccia, for being incredibly supportive of her field and the arts in general.
“It was one of the highlights of my career, and it was quite humbling,” Nadolski said. “I feel very blessed working in a school system that’s been very supportive of the arts.”
Even outside of the art room, Nadolski’s life is rooted in artistic ventures. She’s been an active member of Portage Tri Kappa for 13 years, which supports education and arts in the community, and she is co-owner of Art Z Fine ArtZ and AntiqueZ in Chesterton, which supports and features more than 30 Region artists’ work, and offers a variety of classes for adults and children.
“It was one of those opportunities that fell out of the sky. This is something I’ve always wanted to do. My friend Cathy (DeLeo, co-owner) called one day and said I have this idea, and I have this spot for us. I talked it over with my husband, and he said if you don’t try it you’ll never know.”
This was in July of 2018; nearly two years later, Art Z is thriving. Every cent earned through classes, demos, and artwork sold goes right to the artists being sponsored.
“It’s been one of the best experiences of my life, a great learning experience, and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Nadolski said. “My friends and family have been very supportive of it, and I feel very blessed to do it.”
Although the virus has put a halt to Art Z’s classes and events, you can still support the artists by purchasing their work.
“We have an Art Z Facebook page and Instagram. The number one way people can support us right now is by supporting artists, and buying their artwork. They can also support us by following us on social media, because we have a couple virtual ideas in the works. Stay tuned!”
Nadolski is devoted to her husband, Ray, and her daughters Sarah and Megan, both of whom were influenced by their mother’s passion for the arts.