By Judy Wakefield
---- — Leave it to the “Lunch Lady” to show the fine arts are on a comeback in Andover’s public schools.
Or, more accurately, the Lunch Lady’s author and illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka.
His visit to town next week is being seen as a sign that after years of budget cuts, the tide has begun to turn on arts education.
A recent self-study by a School Department team determined that Andover’s student artists, writers, performers and the like possess tremendous talent and should be better recognized and nurtured.
And now, with the financial support of the private Andover Coalition for Education, guest authors and performers are coming to town more often to engage students in the arts.
Krosoczka is the latest example. He’ll be in town for two days next week visiting classrooms at Bancroft and Shawsheen elementary schools. He’ll also give a free community-wide, after-school lecture on Tuesday, May 28, at 4 p.m. at Doherty Middle School.
“Sports get noticed every day at school, show choirs get noticed ... we knew we had to do something,” high school fine arts teacher Meghan Michaud said. “We want to get events, like art shows, in the forefront. We are striving for that.”
Michaud, currently on maternity leave, said the Andover Coalition for Education has been very supportive. The group, which in the past has paid for special panels to display student artwork, approved a grant by two elementary school art teachers to fund Krosoczka’s visit.
Ed Parker, lead teacher in Andover High’s Fine Arts Department, said in an email that the town was “extremely lucky” to attract the “Lunch Lady” creator.
“We are rebuilding the fine arts program and this is our major visiting artist this year in the Andover schools,” he said.
Robea Patrowicz, one of the teachers who submitted the grant request, said students are writing and illustrating their own small books in advance of Krozoczka’s visit.
“The kids are thrilled,” said Patrowicz, who teaches at Shawsheen and Bancroft schools.
Co-grant writer Charlotte Wilson, who teaches at Bancroft, added, “We are building on Jarrett’s visit and the kids are really responding.”
Krosoczka’s bestselling “Lunch Lady” series features 10 books, while his picture books are also best sellers. This summer, he launches into the chapter book genre with the release of “Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked.”
In addition to inspiring students with his work, his personal story, which he openly shares on his website, is also inspiring. Krosoczka, who grew up in Worcester, describes a difficult childhood in which his mother was a heroin addict and his father was never in his life. He was raised by his loving maternal grandparents.
Krosoczka says rejection letters came often in the beginning of his book career, but he never gave up — a message he emphasizes when he meets with kids. Finally, Knopf Books for Young Readers published his book, “Good Night, Monkey Boy,” in 2001. And, Krosoczka was on his way.
His “Lunch Lady” series has twice won a Children’s Choice Book Award in the third- and fourth-grade category and there is now movie talk.
A full house is expected at Tuesday afternoon’s lecture as kids’ backpacks have been stuffed with fliers about Krosoczka’s visit.
“Even our own lunch ladies have a stack of those books.... Everyone is happy that he is coming,” Patrowicz said.
Three Andover educators share what they like about Jarrett Krosoczka’s works:
“His illustrations are so big and take over two pages. It’s great!”
— Art teacher Charlotte Wilson talking about “Punk Farm”
“It’s comic book graphics and a novel. That is so cool and interesting to kids.”
— Art teacher (and comic book collector) Robea Patrowicz on the “Lunch Lady” series
“There’s a plot ... and now I have my own little guy to read to and I have gotten the book already.”
— Meghan Michaud of the Fine Arts Department on “Bubble Bath Pirates.”