HELPING STUDENTS SEE THEIR POTENTIAL
While teaching a mostly Hispanic class in Roma, Texas, near the United States-Mexico border as part of the Teach for America program, Saskia Dresler asked her students what they knew about their town.
The educator had recently learned about a group of archaeology majors who were working to restore a neglected yet historically significant plaza in Roma. Upon realizing the answer her question was essentially “very little,” she led a project where the kids visited buildings, interviewed college students, snapped photos and incorporated their own family history.
“I could see their pride growing and their appreciation for where they live increasing and their curiosity expanding,” Dresler said.
Now the principal of Arts and Technology High School, an alternative school in Wilsonville, Dresler encounters many students who have struggled in previous school environments. Because of that, she strives to help them discover their passions and find avenues to pursue them. For her work, Dresler has been named an “Amazing Educator.”
“Students begin to see themselves in a different light and begin accepting personal challenges once they’ve become part of the Art Tech community,” Arts and Technology learning specialist Kate Gaede said. “Saskia believes that, as a staff, we are all in the work together and the Art Tech village is what helps our students succeed. Saskia fosters collaboration and innovation year after year. This has looked different through (distance learning), but Saskia continues to lead our work with students and families to find opportunities that light the spark to keep students engaged and motivated about their future.”
Some ways Arts and Tech High School has catered to students’ interests under Dresler’s leadership include starting a rock band class and a culinary program, as well as fostering internship opportunities at local businesses and incorporating CrossFit and yoga into physical education. Some of these projects were spearheaded by teachers, but Dresler encouraged them and at times wrote grants so they could obtain proper equipment.
“The crux of it is she loves to create opportunities for students to see themselves in the future doing different jobs and being the person they want to be,” Gaede said.
Dresler and her staff also try to accommodate students’ needs. For students who weren’t attending school because they felt anxiety about speaking in class, Arts and Tech implemented a device for submitting written questions and answers.
Cheryl Wilson, an Arts and Tech counselor, added that Dresler is unique in how deeply she cares for each child and the effort she expends to get to know them. Families and kids trust her as much as they do their counselors, Wilson added. Gaede said that even when a student yells at Dresler and spews offensive remarks, Dresler doesn’t give up on them.
“She’s a boots-on-the-ground principal. She doesn’t stay in her office. She is working with families and kids and teachers constantly,” Gaede said.
This means Dresler’s “off” hours consist of research, responding to emails, writing graduation plans and performing other administrative tasks.
“I’m getting into school and spending a long day here, and continuing that work into the evening to make sure I’m well informed and can be the leader I need to be for our students,” Dresler said.
For her part, Dresler said she and her staff have helped save the lives of some of her students by working with them to find a purpose and a reason to engage in school.
“Students have said being part of this supportive community was the turning point in my life. ‘I have a talent, things to share and I can do that.’ That’s enormous to know I helped a person find that purpose, recognize that potential they have,” Dresler said. “That’s unbelievable. That’s enormous. That wasn’t just me. That was everyone here.”
Throughout the pandemic, Dresler has sent care packages to students who haven’t participated in school lately and even delivered pies to teachers on Thanksgiving. The goal is to communicate to families that the school has their back and is non-judgmental, and to teachers that they are appreciated.
“We need to be clear in our communication that ‘We’re here for you, the door is open and everything going on is OK and let us know how we can help you,’” Dresler said.
Overall, Dresler was honored by her selection but emphasized the work her teachers, fellow principals and other West Linn-Wilsonville School District personnel are doing during unprecedented times.
“Any successes I have as an educator are because I’m a part of a system that respects and supports teachers and leaders, and a school district that wants to see every student thrive,” she said.