CHATHAM, NJ - On January 3, Lafayette School Art teacher Janet Kraemer celebrated a milestone few reach - her 50th year as an educator in one school district. Kraemer was honored by Lafayette School in a surprise program Tuesday afternoon, hosted by Principal Cheryl Russo.
When Principal Russo made the announcement following the presentation of a timeline of innovation over 50 years in a ‘welcome back’ program, students and staff erupted in applause and acknowledged Kraemer’s service and dedication with a standing ovation.
As a child growing up in West Orange, Kraemer enjoyed crafting and art projects, with a special interest in creating with unique materials. Her father a toolmaker and mother a fourth grade teacher, she had the perfect blend of a traditional childhood with parents who indulged her creativity.
After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in General Elementary Education (with a concentration in art) from William Paterson College, Kraemer began teaching K-4 Art by day, while dedicating her evenings and summers toward completing her K-12 Art certification and Masters in Art Education at Montclair State College.
Her Masters thesis explored stitchery as a three-dimensional medium, and Kraemer created a gallery that was displayed as a one-woman show at the college. Soon after, two of her pieces were selected to be part of a traveling exhibit of rising young artists exhibited throughout prestigious New Jersey locations for a year.
After completing her Masters degree, Kraemer came to Southern Boulevard School in January 1967 to fill a mid-year K-5 Art leave replacement, which turned into a permanent position that has taken her from SBS to Mountainview School, back to SBS, and finally to Lafayette. Over the years, Kraemer has also become a wife, proud mother to four sons, and a grandmother.
While most cannot imagine 50 years in the same job, Kraemer can’t imagine not coming to her classroom and teaching art. In addition to her fourth and fifth grade art classes, Kraemer has also created two popular after-school art enrichment programs.
Her fall enrichment is a “Head Show,” a unique experience for students that she has offered since 1973 where students re-create classic stories such as The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, in addition to performing original scripts by Kraemer with meaningful messages of kindness and acceptance. Wearing giant paper maché heads and costumes made by Kraemer, the stories are told through song, dance, acting, and vibrant colors. For her equally popular spring enrichment program, Kraemer offers an interactive art show experience where children not only display their work, but present live demonstrations of the process of creating art to visitors.
During the school year, Kraemer commits herself to adorning Lafayette School with student artwork and festive pieces for holidays and special occasions. In recent years, she has also generously contributed to high school and middle school productions with homemade puppets and props. When asked about what is most memorable about a f50-year career in education, Kraemer smiles widely and responds “oh, the conversations with the kids – they are just so much fun” without hesitation.
As an elementary art teacher, Kraemer has taught every child in the district – and many of the parents and her colleagues throughout the district. Kraemer has been on staff the longest, but her current supervisor, Barbara Klemp, has been there just a bit longer – as a SBS first grader when Kraemer arrived.
“I remember being in Janet’s class – she is among my most memorable teachers.” Klemp credits Kraemer with being an early innovative influence who taught her to see use and beauty in unlikely items and to take pride in her work. “She taught me to create my own way of doing things using my imagination and to develop the patience to work through challenges - patience with myself in making visions realities was a valuable lesson in my elementary art classes.”
Klemp also notes Kraemer’s ongoing dedication to her students, their families, and the district in general.
Kraemer’s art colleagues also note her contributions to the district, describing her as a “legend” in the Chatham Art program who works tirelessly to provide an outstanding experience for her students. Teaching at the upper elementary level, her mark is indelibly left on her students all the way through high school, and those teachers who precede her in grades one through three are thrilled to know their students have such a great experience awaiting them at Lafayette.
When asked how she still has so much energy to keep her art program so fresh and fun, Kraemer quickly replied “Every day is a new beginning, a fresh start to get excited about learning.”
As she continues to inspire generations of children, Janet Kraemer remains a memorable and dynamic teaching presence.
In an eventful first week of 2017, Kraemer will present the winter Head Show 7 p.m. Jan. 5 in the CHS/Lafayette auditorium, and will be honored by the SDOC Board of Education at their publicmeeting on Monday, Jan. 9.