1. Sarah Wolff

Photo by Rebecca Qin

You were voted as one of CHS’ most influential people; specifically, the  most influential teacher. How does that make you feel?

That makes me feel really good, because I think that that (nomination) is actually coming from people within the school and not a committee that doesn’t actually see what’s going on day to day in the school environment. So that is an award that I will actually take and feel a lot of pride in because I feel—like I said—it is coming from the people that are in the trenches every single day here in this building and are actually seeing the day-to-day things. I will take a compliment from a student that I work with, that I get the chance to impact positively, any day because that’s why I wanted to be an educator. So that award makes me feel awesome because that was 100 percent my goal in wanting to be in this profession.


How do you feel you’ve impacted CHS as the sponsor for House of Representatives and Cabinet?

I think when I wanted to be an educator—when I was 18 to 22 in college—I saw things in rose-colored glasses. (I thought) that I was going to change the world, and I think that’s why anybody wants to go into a service profession; it’s that they want to make a difference and they want to make a positive impact. And when I got into education, I found that, like many other professions, there was a lot of red tape and bureaucracy, and I got very bogged down with curriculum and other requirements and found it very hard to actually do what I wanted to do and felt very unfulfilled in it. And I think finding my niche—to actually feel like I can try to make an impact, not just in our community and the world but in the students here at CHS through things like the House of Representatives, Dance Marathon and Cabinet—has really (helped me) find my fulfillment as not just a teacher but as a person. I feel really honored by (the fact) that students see that, whether that’s happening all the time or not, that is at least the goal: to make a positive impact, not to make Distinguished Graduate points or a line on your college resume. It really is to make a change, to make a difference. You know I think the biggest thing is the power in young people—that sometimes you just need the avenue to do that. And if that avenue is through student government and Dance Marathon, then I’m just happy to be a part of that.


How long have you been a teacher here at CHS?

Since 2000. My first year was 2000-2001.


How long have you been the sponsor of House of Representatives?

I have been a student government sponsor since my first year here, but I was with Senate to begin with. Then we kind of had a realignment and the House (of Representatives) sponsor went on maternity leave and didn’t come back, so then I moved to House. That was 2010.


What is one thing that you feel you’ve done at CHS that has made a lasting impact?

I have been really proud to be involved in the Dance Marathon movement. That started for me as a way to commemorate the life of a former student that I had a relationship with, (as well as) a relationship with her brother who was involved with student government. And it really began as a way to honor her life and to help him grieve through a process. I mean, to lose a sibling in that tragic way, so suddenly. He was in my class, I was involved with him in activities, so I think in the fact that that has now become a part of a culture here at CHS—and not just Dance Marathon, but giving is a part of our culture, like giving back to the community and helping people in need—I think that’s (a way) for me to feel like I’ve had a role in that. I’m not saying I’m taking ownership of it because I think that the students really have to take ownership in that because sometimes when the teacher says do something, you don’t do it, and I just think that our school, our culture, and our community has embraced that concept and that idea of doing things for others, giving back to the community, using your time and talents in a way that doesn’t just benefit you and where you are going to college and what job you’re going to have but benefits somebody or someone else in need. So whether it is Riley Hospital or something else, I just think being a part of (the concept of giving), that being a cultural mindset of CHS, is something that I am pretty proud of. Again, not to say that I started that or kept it going, but that I’ve had a part in that and a role in that continuing here in CHS long after we began that and the reasons have changed throughout the years. You know, it’s not so much about commemorating Ashley’s life or helping Casey get through that, but keeping that as ‘This is who we are at CHS.” Yes, we win all of these awards and state championships, and we have the smartest kids and the best performing arts department, and all of these things we are so proud of, but what I tell people is that I think that the things we should be the most proud of and that everybody—whether you are smart or you are an athlete or you’re not involved in anything—can be proud that we are the most generous and that we are the most caring. Those are the immeasurables that I’m the most proud of in this school, just being a part of a culture that embraces that.


Describe your experience as a teacher at CHS?

I would say that my experience just being a teacher is probably different that a lot of the teachers in the school just because of what I do teach, that I teach something that is an elective and the level of what I teach—I’m teaching beginners to learn something and to appreciate something that they are probably not going to continue to do. I’m not teaching advanced artists who are looking to go on to study art professionally and make a career from it. I’m teaching kids who realistically probably need this for the Core 40 diploma and have to take art and are taking the path of least resistance. So I think I’m probably getting a different experience, but I think part of being any teacher is teaching those life skills like turning things in on time and working hard in class even though you are not the best at something. Just character in general is way more important to me than if you can make a beautiful coil pot; that you tried hard, that you are a kind person, that you put time and effort into it. I think as an art teacher that is a little bit of a different standard than maybe making math actually fun or making history come alive.


What impact do you think you’ve had on your fellow teachers?

I hope I set the example that education expands outside of 7:50 to 3:05; that it’s about relationships with kids and it’s about sacrificing your time, giving your talents to kids in other ways than just your subject matter for four periods a day. I don’t know if I’ve made an impact on teachers but I’m hoping I’m not just setting an example of servant leadership to the students here but I’m also setting an example to our staff that that’s why we are educators. I don’t care for educators that say that they are in education because they want to work from 7:50 to 3:05 and have their summers off. The teachers that I talk to wanted to become educators because they wanted to positively impact the life of a child and I think that to really fully get that experience, you have to give more. When I’m getting nominated for awards and things and people are saying ‘Congratulations,’ it’s people like the custodians and the secretaries that are telling me that, because I have relationships with them because I am putting myself out there, outside of the normal parameters of what’s required as a teacher. And that is how you make those deeper relationships with your students, with your staff, and, by being that example, I’m hoping that that’s enough to make an impact. Or when a student comes to them and says, ‘Will you sponsor this club? I’m interested in it,’ they will say, ‘Yes.’ When they came to me about student government, I had no experience in that as a 22 year old teacher but I said ‘Yes,’ and now it has changed my life. So I think: take a risk. That’s not just an example for kids but also an example to for adults too. You never know who that is going to impact, whether that be a student or a staff member. So I hope that is an example I’m setting.


What impact do you think your students have had on you?

They’ve definitely not only made me the educator I wanted to be, but they’ve made me the person I want to be. A lot of people say, ‘Don’t let your career define you who you are; you’re more than that.’ I am super proud to say that I am not more than that, that this is definitely where I want to be and who I want to be, which I think is more important. Who I was created to be was not just to be a teacher but to give back, to make an influence on kids lives, to inspire them to do the same. I think that’s why we are here on planet Earth, whether it is through education or volunteering or whatever it is you are doing: to have that spark lit at a young age. I’m a part of making that happen for a lot of kids, and I am just super proud of that not just as a professional, but as a person when I go home and when I’m out in the community with my family and my husband. It just defines me as a person.


How do you think you will continue to make an impactful change in CHS in the years to come?

Honestly, I don’t know, because had you asked me in 2000 when I started this if this is what it would’ve become, I would’ve laughed at you and told you you were crazy because that is not how I saw my life going. I’m a big tweeter, and I think one of the lessons that I always post is ‘Do not plan your life because it would never work out the way you expect it but it may just work out better.’ I don’t know what the future holds. If we are going to see major changes, like with what I’m doing or the direction of where the school’s going. I’m not dreading that, but I’m excited about that. I’m excited about new kids coming into this organization every single year and excited what they are going to bring to it and getting to know them and their ideas. That is how we got to where we are: because kids have taken a risk and and said ‘What about this idea?’ or ‘Can we try Dance Marathon?’ I’m excited for the future. I don’t know it is going to go but I’m really looking forward to it.

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Alina Yu