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Sussex Tech names Kelli Gehrke 2021 Teacher of the Year

Delaware News Desk
Sussex Countian
Sussex Countian

Sussex Technical High School digital publishing and design teacher Kelli Gehrke, an eight-year teaching veteran with a decade of professional graphic design experience, has been named the district’s 2021 Teacher of the Year.

“Ms. Gehrke has the ability to inspire students to give their very best,” said Principal John Demby. “She is the linchpin of an outstanding program, and devotes herself fully to improving her students’ lives.”

District Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said Gehrke has used her real-world experience — as a designer and photographer for businesses in Illinois and Delaware — to help prepare Sussex Tech students for their future.

“Her passion for seeing her students succeed, in the classroom and out, is remarkable,” said Guthrie. “She keeps our digital publishing and design students actively engaged in the community and connected to our local businesses.”

Gehrke’s platform as Teacher of the Year will be using art to help students deal with mental health issues.

“When I first started teaching, I was excited to explain the tools and theories that students needed to become graphic designers,” said Gehrke. “However, I quickly learned that a huge majority of my students were learning much more than design tools. Quiet students that I could not even get to speak in class were designing powerful pieces of art expressing their very strong opinions through their work. Students who had trouble sitting still during instruction were excelling at projects when it came to the actual design portion of class. I learned through the art they created what they needed help with and how I could support them. Many of these kids didn't just like creating art, they needed to create art — to communicate their feelings, to help them stay focused or to calm their anxiety.”

Gehrke moved into teaching in 2012 when she was hired by Sussex Tech. She earned her bachelor’s degree in graphic arts from Robert Morris College in Illinois in 2002, and her master’s degree in career and technical education from Wilmington University in 2016.

Gehrke said she is honored to represent the district on the state level in the Teacher of the Year process.

“I love my job and helping my students learn each and every day,” she said. “Art and design are my passion, but working with young people and helping them grow is the most rewarding job someone can have.”