by Lorie Lewis Ham
I’m sure most of us can look back at our time in school and remember a teacher who made a difference in our lives, maybe even changed our life completely. We at KRL enjoy taking the time to recognize some of the local teachers in our area. This week we are profiling Connie Wiebe, who teaches art at Reedley High School.
Connie was born and raised in Reedley. She attended Washington School, General Grant, Riverview, and Reedley High School. A love for art has always been a part of Connie’s life. During high school, art classes were her favorite. Her art teacher, Mr. Amtz, was her favorite teacher and was very encouraging. He taught her painting and drawing techniques. After high school, she attended Reedley College and then went on to get a B.A. in Fine Art at CSU Fresno.
However, it wasn’t until she was 35 that she made a change in the direction of her life and went back to school for a teaching credential so she could teach fine art. “Before I taught art I worked at Duncan Ceramics in their advertising department,” said Connie.
She also owned an advertising agency for many years with her first husband Steve Fernandez. “We designed logos, business cards, brochures, and box labels for local companies such as HMC, Summertime, and Ito. I redesigned the Reedley logo that they use today from an older design. I closed the business after my husband passed away.”
Her first teaching job was in 1995 at Grant Middle School where she taught seventh grade math. RHS needed a math teacher for one period so she signed on to teach that class too. “Juan Garza encouraged me to stick with it and he would get me some art classes in the future,” continued Connie. “Eventually I taught Art 1. I soon developed a computer art class teaching the basics of graphic design. Through the years, the Computer Graphic Design class has grown and teaches students skills in advertising design, using Photoshop, and other software products. I eventually took over the darkroom Photography class and changed it to Digital only.”
Currently Connie teaches Digital Photography, Graphic Design, and Video Production. In the past, she has also taught Art 1, Drawing and Painting, Art History, Pottery, Keyboarding and Math 1.
“I love working with Connie,” shared RHS pottery teacher Matthew Hiebert. “Our Art department is a small, tight-knit group (three teachers). We all bounce ideas off each other and collaborate well together. Connie always has new and interesting projects in her classes and it helps me stay motivated to do the same in my classes. I consider Connie a close personal friend as well as a colleague. It truly is a privilege working alongside of Connie.”
Connie’s favorite thing about teaching is working with the students. When a student takes a photo or creates art that they are proud of, it makes her smile. The hardest part of her job is working with students who don’t care or don’t try.
“Art classes challenge students to analyze and evaluate artwork,” shared Connie. “Art students must problem solve, develop an idea, choose a medium and produce the art. Students are encouraged to express themselves through their art. Most of the art projects include a self-evaluation written by the student. Technology has influenced the art world. Artwork can be viewed and shown on the internet. Students have their phones, including a pretty good camera, in their hands most of the time so they won’t miss that great photo.”
A typical work day for Connie includes teaching one class of Computer Graphic Design, four Photography 1 classes with a Photography 2 class mixed in, and one Video Production class. Her students typically come in to class, sit down at their computer and get right to work. “The photo students have an opportunity to check out cameras and take photos for the current assignment. Video students must write a proposal script and draw a storyboard for each video they create. The video class students create most of their assignments with a group.”
One of Connie’s former students, Toni Sandoval, credits Connie with setting him on his path to success. He is now head designer for Men’s Denim & Streetwear, Sunrise Brands, LLC. “I certainly wouldn’t be where I am in my career if it weren’t for the fundamental and basic abilities I developed in Ms. Fernandez’ (Wiebe) class. What I learned has followed me all through college and my industry.”
In her free time, Connie loves to travel–with art museums, galleries, and theatre often being the focus of her travels. She also enjoys working with Reedley’s River City Theatre Company (RCTC), both as an actor and sometimes helping paint set pieces. “Last year I took up fishing at Huntington Lake. I also love to cook and spend time with family.”
Connie is now married to Matt Wiebe, who is a local pharmacist and also does some acting with RCTC. Since marrying Matt, her family has grown to include Matt’s daughter Sarah who also works for KCUSD. Connie has two daughters of her own, Michelle and Niki, and two grandsons.
“Connie is a gifted artist,” stated Mark Norwood, Artistic Director for RCTC and theatre arts coordinator for KCUSD. “Her work with our theatre company has added greatly to our professional polish. She is, also, a really fun person to be around which makes her contributions even sweeter.”
As an Art teacher, Connie’s philosophy is that everyone can create art they just need to find their medium. “Art can enrich your life. Paint, draw, take pictures, dance, act, sing, be creative.” Connie plans to continue teaching for another three to five years.