MISHAWAKA — Almost 30 years after Ryan Sergeant graduated from Mishawaka High School, he still draws inspiration from one of his teachers, a man named David Robertson who created a learning space that was far from normal.
Robertson taught international relations, a class that seemed doomed to be boring. But his classroom, a virtual museum of world maps, flags and student projects, fed the imagination. And though Robertson was, as Sergeant described him, a "shriveled old man," he had boundless energy and passion for the subject matter.
Sergeant, too, tends to shun "normal."
The Mishawaka High School art department chairman, who was named School City of Mishawaka's teacher of the year earlier this month, works hard to build classroom atmosphere that exists almost outside the borders of conventional schooling.
"When a kid walks in here, they're like, 'oh, this is not a normal place,'" he said last week. "That's right. This is not a normal room, and we're not doing normal things here. We're doing different things. Hopefully good, but not normal."
Sergeant's cluttered classroom and studio is tucked at the end of a third-story hallway. During his lunch hour, a few students put the finishing touches on their last project for the year — old-fashioned wooden classroom chairs painted with children's book themes to be sold at the Mishawaka Education Foundation's annual fundraiser.
Music floated from a set of speakers, the playlist cycling through selections as varied as Taylor Swift's "Love Story" and The Who's "Baba O'Riley (Teenage Wasteland)."
The walls were plastered with self-portraits, posters and the sorts of unidentifiable memorabilia that might fill an artsy mancave, though some of Sergeant's students expressed dismay that much of the beloved clutter had already been removed as the high school prepares to build a modernized art studio.