LOMBARD — Wanda Drabik taught her first art classes at Montini Catholic High School in the old convent that formerly housed the nuns who lived on the school’s campus.
Fast-forward 20 years, and Drabik’s classroom is in the school’s main building. It’s a large and bright studio and is home to many of the art classes that Drabik has helped develop. The room is filled with art supplies and masterpieces-in-progress, and of visitors in her classroom, she kindly requests, “Please pretend it’s clean.”
This year, the 59-year-old art teacher and chairwoman of Montini’s Fine Arts Department is celebrating her 20th anniversary of teaching at the school and reflecting on the curriculum she’s developed during her tenure.
“When I got here, there wasn’t an art program, so I had to bring it upon myself,” she said.
Art was something she always did growing up. Drabik has memories of attending classes at the Art Institute of Chicago with her mother as a little girl. She enrolled at Northern Illinois University planning to study interior design, but later switched to graphic arts, and after a few years of working as a freelance graphic artist in Chicago, she went back to school and became certified to teach.
She came to Montini in 1993, after working at two Catholic elementary schools in surrounding suburbs, and was responsible for teaching every art class the school offered. She was the only art teacher.
Today, enough classes are offered that a student interested in art can take an art class each semester of high school. The school has a graduation requirement that ensures students take at least two semesters of a fine arts class, and it’s this restriction that brings many of the students into her class.
Drabik said she likes to see the diversity of students who come through her classes. It’s a mix of artistic, athletic and academic students with varying degrees of confidence in an art studio, but they all produce great work, she said.
“It’s fulfilling when you know you’re helping someone,” she said. “It’s also fun when you see someone who thinks they can’t do something do something great.”
Art class often becomes a haven for students who struggle to excel in other aspects of school, too. She said she enjoys being able to give that opportunity to so many of the students at Montini, and sees the value that a fine arts education offers in other aspects of school.
“It’s like solving a problem,” she said. “I think that helps children with everything outside of the class.”
Drabik is complimentary to the school’s principal, president and other administrators for supporting her as the art program expanded.
“The administration has allowed me to go the way I needed to go to make the program bigger, better, more interesting,” she said.
She has no favorite class, but she enjoys teaching design classes and mixed-media ones.
“I like the older levels just because I see that spark in some of the students, and it’s fun to watch them grow,” she said. “I see it in the freshmen, too.”
Even after 20 years, she has plans for expansion. She dreams of one day offering a jewelry class or a painting-only class. She’d like to continue developing the Fine Arts Department, offering new resources for her students and offering a place where they can excel.
“Having a place to be accepted and shine is important, especially in high school,” she said.