By Zach Lichter
The 2020-21 school year was an impressive one for Mrs. Jill Alexander.
A nine-year veteran of Wall High School, she was named the 2021 Monmouth Arts Education Awards outstanding educator in visual arts, capping a year in which she has closed deals to create illustrations for a pair of forthcoming children’s books and became the first teacher ever inducted into the Wall National Honor Society. Not a bad year after she had to delay travel abroad, her other passion, due to the pandemic.
“I am so proud,” Wall Principal Ms. Rose Sirchio said in an email announcing the Monmouth Arts Education Awards, which honors individuals and organizations within Monmouth County that continue to inspire young artists in the community.
“What I enjoy most about being Mrs. Alexander’s student... is all of the fun we have together when we are in her classroom,” said Wall senior Karlie Sambade. “There is never a dull moment, she makes it a positive experience for each and every one of her students.
In her acceptance video for the Monmouth Arts Education Awards, Mrs. Alexander thanked her husband John as well as her late mother, her colleagues and Ms. Sirchio for their support and dedication to the art program. She also talked about the impact that her students made on her.
On April 26, Mrs. Alexander gave a speech at this year’s NHS induction explaining what her goal is for her students and how she demonstrates the four pillars of NHS.
“My first thought was ‘how did I get this?’” Mrs. Alexander said. “I learned that several students had nominated me in 2019. This was a pleasant surprise. I was very excited that I could share what the tenets meant to me.”
Growing up, Mrs. Alexander spent most of her childhood fascinated with art. She enjoyed the process of making art and spent a lot of time practicing, copying and imitating what she thought was good drawing and painting.
Mrs. Alexander went to The College of New Jersey but majored in business. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in marketing and a minor in fine art. For her, studying art at TCNJ was an afterthought. She felt like her abilities weren't strong enough and said she didn't know how she would feel making a living studying art. It wasn’t until she met a college professor during the second semester of her junior year who encouraged her, along with a little motivation from her mother to apply to some prestigious art schools. She applied to the School of the Visual Arts and finished with a master's degree in fine arts. Two years later, she ended up getting her teaching license.
Mrs. Alexander said she never thought she would teach art. She feels like it is the perfect way to share her love of it with young people. A 1999 graduate Wall High School herself, she says that Mrs. Mychelle Kendrick and the late Mr. Joe Eichnger are sources of inspiration. Her other inspiration comes from traveling the world and she tries to apply what she sees from her journeys to her teaching style and when she is creating her artwork. Mrs. Alexander and her husband travel internationally each year. Among some of the exotic places she’s visited are Cuba, Morocco and Egypt. They were supposed to go to India last summer for four weeks.
“Mrs. Alexander travels the world and one thing that makes her teaching unique is the way she uses her travel to create her artwork,” Sambade said. “The outside world has influenced her teaching style in so many ways. The way she uses what she has seen in the outside world in her classroom is what makes her teaching so unique.”
Mrs. Alexander teaches Advanced Placement 2-dimensional art/drawing, materials & techniques, digital illustration and art experience. She also runs the art club. Sambade has had Mrs. Alexander, as her art teacher for three years and will be studying art education at TCNJ in the fall where she will look to follow in her footsteps. She cites Mrs. Alexander as the reason she hopes to become an art teacher.
“She teaches with so much passion and it comes from her heart,” Sambade said. “She is the perfect example of what every teacher should be. She goes above and beyond each and every day to make her classroom an exceptional learning environment. The art room is my favorite place to be.”
Mrs. Alexander said that her mission as a teacher is for her students to apply what they learn to important life lessons in the classroom. She also wants to help them with their problem-solving skills by avoiding artistic obstacles during the creation process. She notes that half of her AP students study at the college level.
Currently, Mrs. Alexander has been creating illustrations for two children's books with two different authors and a publisher. One is a Christmas book which will be released in the fall just in time for the holiday season and be sold nationwide with a heavy market presence in New York City, especially in boutiques around Rockefeller Center. The second book will be released in Spring 2022.
“I hope that young kids will feel the magic that I did when I used to watch animated films and read children's books as a child,” Mrs. Alexander said.
As the 2020-21 school year comes to an end, Mrs. Alexander looks to continue to touch more lives and inspire people to pursue a career in art. She hopes to provide comfort and a feeling of accomplishment wherever her students’ lives take them.