Piiparinen adapts to district needs

By Rana Jones, Gazette Reporter
Posted 5/7/24

KEMMERER — Amidst the challenges of a rapidly changing educational landscape, one steadfast beacon remains constant: our dedicated teachers. As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, …

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Piiparinen adapts to district needs


KEMMERER — Amidst the challenges of a rapidly changing educational landscape, one steadfast beacon remains constant: our dedicated teachers. As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, it’s a timely reminder of the profound impact educators have on shaping minds, hearts and futures. Shelley Piiparinen is one of the inspirational teachers who encourages creativity in her students.

Piiparinen teaches art and computer science to seventh- through 12th-grade students at Kemmerer Junior Senior High School. She graduated from Utah State University with a degree in art education and a minor in French. Recently, she completed a computer science endorsement from Western Wyoming Community College.

Piiparinen took a break from her teaching career to raise a family but was able to stay involved in the classroom by substitute teaching and filling in for teachers on leave. Her husband, Garry, is also a teacher, though now retired; he also served eight years in the Wyoming Legislature.

The couple moved to New Mexico to teach before moving to Wyoming in 1993. Garry taught in Evanston, where they lived and raised their family until after his retirement, when they moved to Kemmerer for Shelley’s teaching job.

Piiparinen said teaching is very rewarding and a lot of work. With new students, classes and curriculum, she said, “You do not get bored. Every day is new.”

Teaching vastly different subjects such as art and computer science can be difficult, but Piiparinen was up for the challenge.

“If you are going to teach kids art these days, you need to teach digital art, too,” she said.

Utilizing a background in photography, she was able to parlay one form of art to another. She began instructing students in digital photography using Photoshop. This, of course, flows well with her role as the school’s yearbook advisor. She initially took the art position at the school in the winter of 2021 and later was asked to teach computer science.

Although her degree is in art education, Piiparinen jumped at the idea of teaching computer science. She said the problem-solving skills that are required for art are similar to those in computer science.

“You have to think outside the box to be a computer scientist,” she said. “You have to think in different ways. It’s creative, too.”

The creative side of computer science, Piiparinen explained, is that there is not just one way to solve a problem.

“There can be many solutions,” she said. “That’s the creative part.”

Although the digital aspect of art was not around when Piiparinen was in college, she has embraced it and encourages students to take computer science as most jobs use technology in some way.

“It is important for students to have digital literacy,” she said.

To her art students who are not interested in computer science she reminds them that art utilizes technology. “You may prefer to paint and draw and that is great, but you will use digital tools as well whether it is to promote your art or doing part of your work digitally” she said.

In her computer science instruction, she includes coding and web design. In both computer science and art, she teaches a variety of topics. Laughing, she said, “When you work at a small school, every teacher has several roles.”

Piiparinen juggles multiple roles in her art classroom, where she has three different classes at the same time. She explained accommodating the different needs of students.

“There might be 18 kids in the class at three different levels, so you’re teaching multi-tiers,” she said.

“I love teaching kids and watching their creativity and seeing their ideas come to life as they learn more about art,” she said. Teaching her students that learning to draw is learning to see, she said. “We are learning to see patterns, proportions and space.”

Piiparinen teaches this in her coding class as well and tells her students if a program is not running to look at it more closely.

“They are having to look and see mistakes and then fix them,” she said.

Piiparinen is an artist but considers herself a better teacher and said she has always loved teaching.

“I love the kids and enjoy them. They are all different and unique,” she said.

Piiparinen acknowledged all the teachers and the work they do to educate.

“I have been very impressed with the teachers here and their dedication to the kids and wanting them to succeed,” she said.