Above: Mrs. Fair, Brian Ricca’s elementary school art teacher. Submitted photo
By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.
Growing up in the 80s, I went to elementary school right around the corner from my home in Mt. Vernon, NY. Pennington Grimes Elementary School was Kindergarten through sixth. There were three sections for each grade. There were also plenty of what we called “Specials” then, which are now called “Related Arts.” Physical Education (we called it gym), Art, Music, and Computers (it was a lab with state-of-the-art TRS-80s) would rotate through our schedules. In some classes, there was one teacher for each special. In the case of art, there were two teachers, and with all due respect to the other teacher of art at PG while I was a student there, Mrs. Carole Fair was my favorite.
It had nothing to do with the subject itself – to this day, I struggle with the concepts of art. I can do basic shapes, I can color in the lines, and paint-by-number was a childhood favorite. What I had a hard time doing back when I was a student was to make what I was doing look like the exemplar. Honestly, I have a hard time doing that today when it comes to art. But Mrs. Fair saw my brilliance every time. Every. Single. Time.
It didn’t matter if it was painting or colored pencils. Clay or caricature. Pottery or perspective. Mrs. Fair made me feel like an artist. Even if I didn’t see it, and more often than not, I did not see it. Mrs. Fair found something that made me feel like my work, my efforts, my renderings were worthy of stellar, authentic praise.
How do I know this? Because more than 37 years later, I can still “feel” her impact on my life. In the past several years, that is due to the human and kind side of social media. She commented on every blog post I wrote, she would “love” and praise the posts about my own children when I bragged about them, and she found a way to tell me how proud she was of me. Yes, at almost forty-nine years old, it still lands when one of your favorite teachers tells you how proud she is of you.
Mrs. Fair taught more than just art. She taught about relationships. She ensured that we were kind to others in her room, to the people, and to the work they were doing. She found ways to help us see our mistakes as masterpieces with a quiet suggestion whispered in our ears. To be clear, there were no mistakes in art in Mrs. Fair’s room. There was never anything that we could do in her classroom that was “wrong” unless we treated someone else (or their work) poorly. Mrs. Fair taught us life lessons, in a room that was tucked in the back corner of the first floor, just to the left of the stage, in the auditorium.
Sadly, Mrs. Fair passed away in August, leaving a legacy of mistake-free art students writing beautiful memories of her and no doubt attending her services in person. Her creativity and passion for art were only exceeded by her desire for us to be good people to each other and in the world. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the reasons I put relationships first is because I learned that lesson very early and very clearly from educators like Mrs. Fair at 20 Fairway St., Mt. Vernon, New York.
It was never about the art. It was about the people. A lesson Carole Carrozza Fair spent a lifetime teaching us, even after she left the classroom.
Thank you, Mrs. Fair.
Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.