Student exhibit honors memory of beloved art teacher

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 Though she passed a year ago, Sarah Bennati still lives in the hearts, minds — and paintbrushes — of all she touched and is still very much loved.

An art teacher at Stockbridge Valley Central School for grades 7 through 12, Sarah’s gift for seeing art in all and bringing it out earned her the admiration of her students.

“Sarah was extremely liked by the students and respected by most,” Stockbridge technology teacher Patty Waldron said. Sarah co-taught art with Waldron, and the two became good friends.

“I knew Sarah well, and we worked together for over 20 years. Her room was two doors down from mine, and we ate lunch together every day with Erin Smith, our agriculture teacher,” Waldron continued. “We were part of a group of seven ladies that would get together outside of school throughout the year.”

Gene Bennati, Sarah’s father, said Sarah started work in advertising before deciding to switch to teaching. “Sarah was always quiet, shy, and understated. She let everything she did, whatever the accomplishment, speak for themselves,” he said. “She wasn’t boastful.”

Sarah’s sister, Jackie Snizek, said Sarah was a kind person who was quiet, thoughtful, and quick-witted. “She always had a funny remark or joke to make you smile,” Snizek said. “She was connected with her friends, family, and students through her sense of humor.”

Students at Stockbridge would have Sarah as an art teacher from middle school to high school, becoming a familiar and friendly face that students looked to.

“Sarah attended various athletic events to support teams and helped with the set designs for performing arts productions,” Snizek said. “She talked about her students constantly and was always trying to help them. ... When contests crossed her desk, she would help students enter them in the hopes they could earn some recognition or scholarships.”

During the pandemic and teaching was moved to remote learning, Sarah wanted students to continue making art.

Her sister said she had an artistic mind that was constantly turning with new ideas — a piece of barnwood became a background for an acrylic painting of a deer, broken glass became beautiful mosaics. So with some students not able to afford supplies, Sarah took things into her own hands.

“She would help them come up with creative ideas and use things in their house to create projects,” Snizek said. “If they didn’t have orange, she asked them to use the Cheetos dust for that color. Often she would purchase art supplies and send them to a student’s house.”

Sarah died Sept. 22, 2021, at the age of 47 — just when the new school year had started.

Her passing shocked and saddened those around her, with the Stockbridge Valley Central School holding a candlelight vigil.

Being former teachers, Bennati said he and his wife supported Sarah as she found her way as a teacher early on and offered advice when they could. And while he knew she was a successful teacher, he didn’t realize just how loved she was.

“When Sarah passed, they had a candlelight vigil at the school. And the outpouring of support from the community was incredible,” Bennati said. “We had no idea how much she meant to the community, to the kids, to her colleagues, to the administration, and the parents.”

And more than that, students are carrying on her memory in their art, dedicated to her and her ability to see art in all things.

A special art display is currently on display at the Sherrill-Kenwood Library, 543 Sherrill Road, by the studio art, photography, and seventh grade art classes — all core classes that Sarah taught at Stockbridge Valley.

In addition, some art students followed an idea developed by Waldron and Sarah, making birdhouses inspired by famous artists’ works that are also on display.

“Sarah understood that not all students loved art,” Snizek said. “However, she had the unique ability to convince them to see their potential to be creative in their own ways. She could see potential in students that they did not have the confidence to develop.”

“Seeing students have the confidence to create artwork is so touching,” she continued. “It is incredibly moving to see the students making art and honoring Sarah. She loved working at Stockbridge and touching students’ lives. It’s beautiful to see that reciprocated in her honor.”

Bennati said at Sarah’s calling hours, there were a few students in attendance who said they didn’t like art, but they loved Sarah. And seeing students’ art for her, Bennati couldn’t be more proud.

“April was always her month at the Sherrill Library,” Bennati said.

Seeing all the artwork done for Sarah, Waldron still feels her friend’s presence at the school.

“She may be gone, but she is not forgotten,” Waldron said.

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