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Mercy Saved Her

February 08, 2019
By Deb Daley

Dara Green ’94 described herself as a scared and fragile teen when she came to Mercy, who felt misunderstood, threatened, and often challenged authority.  She left knowing who she was, confident, and ready for the journey ahead of her.

“Mercy, hands down, saved my life - from my mother’s decision to send me to Mercy, to the school tolerating me for my first two years, to embracing me my last two years,” she said.

Dara had gone to public school before attending Mercy. Her transition to Catholic school was rocky not only because of assimilation issues, but because she had a non-diagnosed anxiety disorder.  Luckily in her final two years at school, she was able to receive outside medical help and the administration and faculty at Mercy worked with her on her anxiety.

After graduation, she attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) where she double majored in Ceramics and Art Education.  

“Being an artist has been my calling for as long as I can remember.  Being an educator was realized as a junior in high school because I wanted to become the type of teacher who strived to understand the misunderstood,” she added. 

She taught in the Chicago public schools for seven years at the Vaughn Occupational High School, serving students with mild to severe cognitive delays.  She started the art education program there.

“I believe that every student should have the highest quality of art education, despite available funding.  I organized and hosted an annual silent auction of student work to fund the program,” she added.  

While at Vaughn, Dara earned a National Board of Professional Teaching Certificate.

In December 2002 she moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where she taught at a couple of public schools before joining the faculty at Central Academy in 2006. The school provides additional programming for gifted and highly motivated high school students. Again, there was no art program prior to Dara’s arrival.  

“Our mission at the Central Academy studio is to inspire passion in our high school students to observe, envision, engage, persist, and reflect on themselves as creators, innovators, and community members through the ceramic arts.  In the studio, we use the ceramic arts to teach students the essential skills to be successful in life,” she said. 

Her pottery program started with a handful of students and has grown to over 100. More students are trying to get in, so Dara is spearheading a fundraising effort that has raised more than $400,000 to build a larger studio.

As a teacher, Dara embraces differentiated learning styles. Her studio is a flipped classroom, where the instruction is recorded by the teacher and students can access lessons via YouTube. 

“In a flipped classroom, instruction is switched. Students do their passive learning outside of the classroom and homework or active learning is done in concert with the teacher, allowing more time for me to work one-on-one to meet individual needs,” she explained.  

She has presented at two national conferences about flipped classrooms and the way social media has supported her student’s learning experience through YouTube and celebrating student’s work on Instagram and Snapchat. 

“My goal as an art educator is for the studio to be student-centered and student-run.  Today and tomorrow’s students need to learn and be able to fail, persist, think outside the box, and triumph over questions we don’t even know exist yet,” she said. 

Having lived her own experience of struggle and misunderstanding that was mitigated at Mercy, Dara tries to approach each student knowing they all wish to succeed, no matter how compliant they may appear.

“I strive to get to know the whole person, so I have a better understanding of how to be my best self for each one of them,” she said. 

Photography by Jami Milne