PAINESDALE, Mich. (WJMN) – Paige Lewandowski teaches art at Jeffers High School in Houghton County. From inside her classroom, it’s easy to see her immediate impact.
“I think volunteer work is important to me because it strengthens your community,” Paige Lewandowski, Remarkable Women Finalist said. “It creates a bond and a support network with other people and I’m able to work on my own professional and personal growth.”
In her classroom, Lewandowski not only teaches her students things related to art but she is always looking for ways to help shape the next generation of students that walk through her doors.
“Children are really innovative and imaginative and they are already so inspiring,” Lewandowski said. “Being an educator gives you a unique opportunity to help them develop and implement their own ideas and challenge them to meet their full potential”
As a way to help students fulfill their full potential, Lewandowski applies for special grants for her students to ensure they have everything that they need.
“So a lot of the grants that we apply for are SKY grants or Simple Kindness for Youth grants,” Lewandowski said. “Usually I apply for those grants to fulfill a perceived need that a student has or even if it’s a want, it just gives them the ability to pursue their goals by having the tools they need. Their reaction is always the best part because it is so rewarding. They’re always in awe and they’re grateful and excited when I tell them. Some of the kids walk through the whole school day and they feel unseen so getting a grant specifically for them, it allows them to feel seen and know that they are valued and it goes a long way.”
“She’s just really come into her own as a young woman,” Katie Greenough, who nominated Paige for the Remarkable Women of the Upper Peninsula contest said. “She’s mature, and I watched her progress through college and go on to complete her degree and establish her career in teaching and I’m personally blown away. I am so beyond impressed with what she’s been able to accomplish in a short time.”
Lewandowski’s passion for helping students beyond the classroom has led her to create a school garden at Jeffers High School.
“So the garden grant is in its baby stages through LSSI or Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative,” Lewandowski said. “It’ll probably take a year of planning, and then the next year we’ll probably be able to actually do it. They want us to collaborate with professionals in the community so that the garden itself is well planned and sustainable. Right now I’m working with our science and chemistry teacher and after discussing with the society leaders they said we can also work with our botany teacher, culinary teacher, even the kitchen that way we can incorporate things like you composting and just being more mindful about the environment.”
And her kindness doesn’t stop there, Lewandowski has a passion for animals and has fostered 27 cats along with volunteering countless hours at animal shelters.
“I love working with animal shelters, they are my favorite volunteer opportunities,” Lewandowski said. “I find a lot of opportunities to socialize dogs that are more scared and to walk the dogs that are more energetic as they need those walks. My favorite part is fostering kittens. You get to provide them with food, shelter, socialization, a place to sleep and play. Then when they’re ready they get to go back to the shelter.”
No matter what challenges these students face, Lewandowski makes sure that they know they can succeed.
“So other than the basic skills like art elements and principles of design, or anything regarding art skills I hope that they can take away something in whatever field that they are interested in,” Lewandowski said. “I hope they know that they can benefit from any skill they learn in this classroom such as critical thinking or problem solving or just perseverance in general.”
Supporting others is nothing new to Lewandowski and Katie Greenough has seen her impact firsthand.
“When it comes to those particular at-risk kids, whatever they might need in order to be successful and if there’s a way for her to make that happen whether it’s looking for grants, writing grant proposals and/or chasing down those resources for the kids she’ll do that for any and as many kids as she possibly can,” Greenough said.
Lewandowski credits who she is today to Katie Greenough, who happens to be her mom.
“My mom is an artist and a nurse,” Lewandowski said. “Obviously I feel like I’ve learned everything from her and what she does. She is incredible, the kindest person, and she’s very patient. She’s taught me to be patient and more nurturing so a lot of my demeanor comes from her. She’s always challenged and supported me.”
Lessons that have been passed down from generation to generation, Paige Lewandowski says she wants every student who passes through her door to can achieve their dreams.
“I do believe that anybody can do whatever they want to do, as long as they commit to the hard work behind it and they are interested in continued learning and personal growth,” Lewandowski said. “I also believe strongly that everyone has something to contribute, as long as the kids know that each one of them is unique and they each have something to offer. They just need to stay driven to achieve their goals.”