By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Many people throughout their careers change jobs at least several times. Cheryl Digaetano McPhee of Whitman has done not only that but has also changed her career path, earning degrees and certificates along the way. But now her first love, art, combined with her passion for education, has brought her full circle, as a teacher at the Edgar B. Davis School in Brockton.
McPhee first earned an associate’s degree at Dean Junior College in visual arts before going on to receiving a bachelor of arts degree in art history and studio art at Framingham State University.
She then decided to pursue an executive secretarial certificate program at Katherine Gibbs.
“It was a 10 week crash course,” she recalled. “It gave you a great experience in business.”
Using that base, she further learned the skills necessary to become a medical secretary, as she worked at New England Baptist Hospital and Boston IVF for 12 years.
During this period she also married her husband Bill, with whom she has three girls, twins Angela and Victoria, and Kimberly.
“I knew that we had to find a way to put the girls through school someday,” McPhee said, “so I decided to get my paralegal certification at Stonehill College.”
She finished the program as well as completing an internship but ultimately decided it was not what she wanted to do after all.
Throughout the years, art continued to play an important part of her life. She set up a small studio so she could make jewelry and took courses in advanced metal work.
“It was not just a hobby though,” she said. “While I was trying to figure out the next steps in my life, I treated it as a job.”
As a busy mom she also started substituting in the Whitman-Hanson school system, particularly enjoying time working in the elementary classes.
“I was doing it so much that several people asked me if I had ever considered teaching, particularly as I already had a [bachelor’s] degree,” she said.
The idea intrigued her. So once again, she decided to enhance her own personal education.
“At age 49 I started studying for the MTEL Com and Literacy test,” she said. “And then on my 50th birthday I took the subject test!”
A month later she found out that had passed, earning her certification to teach art in Massachusetts.
In January 2012 she started substitute teaching in the Brockton school system, teaching kids in kindergarten to grade 5. Towards the end of the school year in 2013, she was offered a fulltime position.
“Other than getting married and having kids, it was one of the biggest thrills of my life,” she said. “At age 52, it was a wonderful opportunity! I l felt like I had arrived!”
In 2016, she received her master’s degree in secondary education from Endicott College.
“I did this online, it took a few years,” she noted. “”It wasn’t always easy but its proof it can be done!”
As a teacher at the school, McPhee works with children of many nationalities, some of whom who have had little to no art exposure.
“It’s so awesome to see a student learn about art and really start to understand it,” she said.
She does not just teach art, she emphasized, but rather links art across the entire curriculum. In doing so, she said, she helps the students learn how art is connected with the traditional subjects of math, English, history, and more.
“I teach them how art is has a relationship to everything they will learn in school,” she said.
“They learn about the elements such a color, shapes, space, value, textures, lines and form,” she added. “And the seven principles of art – balance, proportion, emphasis, patterns, rhythm, harmony and contrast. “
McPhee is grateful for a life of different work and educational experiences, as well as motherhood, all of which she said helps her now as a teacher.
“If I did this 20 years ago, I would not be where I am now in my career,” she said. “When you become a mother, you learn how to nurture. I now take that experience and use it to nurture and support other kids each day.”
“I am so proud of my students,” she added. “When they see what they can accomplish and then they are proud of themselves – that makes it so worthwhile for me.”