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Faculty Spotlight: Patti Kirshner

Patti Kirshner, one of the most beloved faculty members at Chartwell School, brings her grace, strength, and creative spirit to the campus and classroom every day -- and has been doing so for 34 years. Her passion for art began as a child, and when she discovered teaching she was able to create a lifelong career combining her creativity, kindness, love for children, and talent. 

“My sisters and I spent our childhood in creative activities - drawing, painting, sewing, singing, and once in high school, acting. I dreamed of being a fashion designer and studied fine art in college,” Patti recalls. While working full time and attending college full time, she remembers envying her roommate’s schedule, who was a speech and language therapist at a private school for students with learning and emotional difficulties. When a position opened for a classroom aide, she took it.

"At first I wasn’t sure I could do this 'teaching thing,' but I was allowed to give art lessons to the students and found that I loved working with young people and this set me on a path to get a teaching credential in art."

Patti met her husband Jim Kirshner (also a beloved Chartwell faculty member for more than three decades) at the same school and they married in 1979. In addition to their regular school year teaching, Patti and Jim also ran a wilderness camp in the High Sierras for many summers. “We would set up camp in a rustic campground east of Yosemite and stay for 5 - 6 weeks in the summer. Each week a couple of other teachers would bring up a new group of students. We visited the ghost town of Bodie, learned about the plight of Mono Lake, hiked up mountain trails, and told stories around the campfire. Each night we were visited by bears and took the kids on “snipe” hunts. It was wonderful. Jim and I got to spend time in one of our favorite places and share the love and wonder of the outdoors with city kids - many of whom had never been beyond their inner-city neighborhoods.”

When their first child was born in 1986, Patti and Jim decided to move out of Los Angeles. They knew of Chartwell and came up to interview for jobs. They were both hired and moved to the Monterey Peninsula in 1987, just four years after Chartwell’s founding. 

I believe there were about 40 students at the time. Jim taught all subjects and, for a while, I taught art, humanities, and language arts. Chartwell continued to grow and soon I was able to teach my beloved subject of art full time.

As a talented artist who just recently had a show at the Pacific Grove Art Center, Patti’s favorite medium is drawing with graphite and painting with oils. “In my early years of teaching I often drew portraits of my students. Now I am drawn to scenes in nature.”

When asked what has kept her teaching for so many years, Patti says, “I love working with young people! Although I have been teaching since 1979, I am always delighted and motivated by what my students create. Working with youngsters encourages me to be present in the moment and to be flexible and open to new ideas. While I don’t often get time to do my own work, I am ensconced in the creative process most of the days of each year.

“Working at Chartwell all these years has allowed me the freedom and opportunity to hone my lessons, create new lessons, sculpt the art program to meet the needs of the students, keep my own interests fresh, and watch many, many students grow up and - the best of all - come back as adults to say hi and share their successes. I can’t think of a better way to spend a career than to work in the creative arts surrounded by young, creative minds.”

If you had Patti Kirshner as a teacher, and would like to send along a message or share a memory, you can email info@chartwell.org and your message will be sent to her.