CANTON, Ohio — As teachers and students head back to the classroom, 3News and Dunkin' teamed up to surprise and honor a Northeast Ohio teacher that is making an extraordinary impact on every student she teaches.
Many qualities make a good teacher, but the ability to inspire students to take what they've learned inside the classroom and bring it outside the four walls of the school is the sign of a great teacher.
Kathy Pugh has done just that throughout her career at STEAMM Academy at Hartford Middle School in Canton.
"Every day is a new day in her classroom," said Principal David Thompson. "They are given opportunities of choice of what the projects may be. She really taps into their genius."
The visual art 'coach,' as what all teachers are referred to at Hartford, has elevated not only the school's art program but also her student's creativity and passion.
Many of her projects literally turn trash into treasure. Students have designed dresses from old Starburst wrappers and bottle caps into Van Gogh's famed 'Starry Night.' Her classes focus on problem-solving and thinking outside the box, especially during the pandemic. When supplies and student access were limited, she had students drawing beautiful portraits with the red dust of flaming hot Cheetos.
"They always have flaming hot Cheetos!" laughed Pugh.
While not every student will become an artist, it's the critical thinking that she teaches that she knows will benefit students for years to come.
"What we do need to figure out is how do we make a smaller iPhone? And how do we go to Mars? They have to have that 'what if'? If we don't have that, then we have no progression in society," said Pugh.
It's that 'what if' question that has opened up her student's mindset to ask themselves what more they can do with their creativity. Inspiring students like Kole Shepler to continue to pursue art after he leaves her classroom.
"She's an amazing art teacher. Amazing person in general. After how much she has helped me with my artwork over the past year, it's incredible. She has helped me realize my passion for art," said Shepler.
Her student's art is not only on display at school, but Pugh has even opened up an art studio in downtown Canton called Creative Dreams. The studio not only displays students' art, but each piece is for sale. All of the profit from pieces sold goes right back into her classroom so she can continue to provide all of the necessary tools to allow her students to achieve.
Her heart for students and passion for teaching has now caught the eye of the Ohio State Board of Education. Kathy is a finalist for Ohio Teacher of the Year.
She will find out soon if she is the winner.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above previously aired on 3News on Aug. 16, 2022.