, Salem, MA

March 24, 2014

Art teacher wins Kennedy Center award for work at Bishop Fenwick


---- — SALEM — A Salem resident has won a 2014 Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award.

Erin Grocki, a former visual arts teacher at Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody, was one of six winners announced by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

The award comes with a $10,000 prize.

“I’m just ecstatic,” said Grocki, who now teaches at Masconomet Regional High School in Boxford. “It seems kind of like a dream.”

Other winners, selected from a pool of hundreds of nominations, came from California, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The awards recognize American teachers “by spotlighting their extraordinary impact on the lives of students,” the Kennedy Center said in a press release.

Grocki was nominated by a former Fenwick student, who wrote about a day in Grocki’s class that helped her overcome a fear of failing and changed her life.

“Who cares if you fail?” Grocki told student Gina Mudge. “Fail big! That’s what life is all about, failing big and learning from your experiences.”

The student also recounted Grocki bumping into her mother at an art show and somehow convincing a skeptical parent to allow her daughter to pursue a passion for art.

“To this day, I don’t know exactly what was said, but all I know is that when we got in the car to go home, my mom turned to me and said, ‘I talked to Mrs. Grocki, and I’m convinced. You have my blessing in whatever you choose to do.’”

Mudge is in college studying to be an art teacher.

Grocki said she, too, was impacted by teachers, including former Fenwick art teacher Brenda Hallinan.

“I had wonderful teachers who inspired me growing up,” she said in a statement on the Kennedy Center website. “Now I try to teach kids to let go of the fear of failing and learn from mistakes, accept challenges, find patience and become creative problem solvers.”

A former animator for Nickelodeon and Disney, Grocki went to the Rhode Island School of Design and earned a master’s degree at the California Institute of the Arts.

She taught drawing, painting, ceramics and other courses at Fenwick for a dozen years before joining the faculty at Masco.

Tom Dalton can be reached at