Nancy Alpago: Reflecting on 22 years of teaching elementary art

March 04, 2020

A lot has changed since Nancy Alpago graduated from Penn State with her bachelor’s degree in art education in 1974. But one thing that has remained the same is her affinity for the University.

“Graduation was the saddest day of my life,” she said. “Even though Penn State is a big place, I felt so safe and protected, and I also felt very prepared to go into the classroom.”

Nancy Alpago
IMAGE: Photo Provided

After graduation, Alpago gained valuable classroom experience by substitute teaching in various schools. In 1976, her career shifted away from teaching when Bethlehem Steel in Pittsburgh hired her as a drafting trainee. Just over a year later, Bethlehem Steel announced they were closing their Pittsburgh office. Out of work, Alpago returned to the classroom as a sub, until she moved to Bethlehem and joined Bethlehem Steel’s headquarters as an illustrator, a position she held for the next nine years.

Still chasing her dream of becoming a full-time art teacher, Alpago met a friend whose husband happened to be an administrator at Parkland School District in Allentown.

“I might not have gotten a job if it weren’t for dumb luck,” Alpago said. “It was August and he needed to replace a new hire who had backed out at the last minute. He looked at my portfolio and resume, and hired me on the spot as a part-time art teacher at Ironton Elementary.”

Over the next few years, Ironton expanded and Alpago eventually taught full time. She was the only art teacher at the school for 22 years, until her retirement in 2014. During the last four years of her career, Alpago also taught ART ED 303 at Penn State Lehigh Valley.

Looking back, Alpago said her fondest memories include the opportunities she had to help children from all walks of life.

“At the beginning of every school year, we had a district welcome meeting, and the message was strong that teachers have the power to impact students’ lives in so many ways,” Alpago said. “I always felt proud of my profession and I think it was because I felt like I was making a positive impact. It doesn’t get much better than that!”

She also offered some words of wisdom for new teachers.

“The first year was very challenging, and I thought teaching might not be for me,” Alpago said. “But when I went back that second year, I absolutely loved it.”

Alpago lives in Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Bob. They have two grown children, Amy and Michael.

Editor’s Note: Penn State’s art education program began in the Department of Home Economics in 1945. By 1957, it was a department in the College of Education until 1979, when it became the art education program in the College of Arts and Architecture’s School of Visual Arts.


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Last Updated March 04, 2020