Skaneateles John Smolenski attended the Scholastic Art Awards presentation as a proud father this year, because his youngest child, Nick, was receiving two Gold Keys in the category of Drawing for work he did while in ninth grade last year.
Smolenski, an art teacher in Skaneateles for 27 years, had no idea that he was going to receive an award as well. He sat with his wife and son as students were recognized for great achievements in photography, ceramics, photography, drawing, design, film and painting.
And then it was time for the section called “Highlights of Special Awards,” which includes the OCC Inspiration Award that recognizes one special teacher who inspires students. As the attributes of this mystery teacher were read, it began to dawn on Smolenski that he was the recipient.
When they named the university he went to, he knew. “I saw his head go down,” said Linda Torrey, who has taught with Smolenski at Skaneateles High School for more than 25 years. She could tell he was totally surprised. It was Torrey who nominated Smolenski, and Torrey who worked with his family to coordinate everything while keeping it a secret from him.
Smolenski is a much-loved teacher of art, ceramics and photography. He has, as Torrey said, “Inspired generations.”
In her recommendation, Torrey described Smolenski as “funny, informative and caring” in the classroom. She said there are “more than a few potters out in the world today that were inspired by him.” Calling Smolenski “a kind and generous soul,” Torrey said he offers “endless encouragement and inspiration to all of his art students.”
Beyond art, Smolenski knows every student in the school and what sport they play, and how they are doing in their season, Torrey said.
“It was a nice honor,” Smolenski said of the award, which came as “a total surprise.” He said that although he has worked on the Scholastic Arts committee for 26 years, he doesn’t always go to the awards ceremony. He was there to support his son and the other students who won.