Principal, Pathways School, Silver Spring, MD
“The biggest thing that MICA taught me is that there are no mistakes. Those are problems to be solved. That stuck with me.”
Out of ten siblings, only a pair made it through college, and Eric Hooper ’01 was one of them. Perhaps that is why the Washington, DC, native has such a fire in his belly for teaching and inspiring. He uses art and his training at MICA to reach students that the Maryland educational system has given up on—students with anger issues, depression, attention deficit disorders, and other challenges. Hooper is principal of the Silver Spring, MD, Pathways School, which uses a model that includes small class size, flexible learning models, job training, and intensive counseling to meet emotionally challenged students “where they are” and prepare them for success.
Though he had earned an associate degree and was already working at Pathways, Hooper wanted to find a way to pursue both his passion for working with young people and his creative impulse. He enrolled in MICA’s BFA/ MA program in Teaching, and credits department head Dr. Karen Carroll and the rest of the faculty with helping him learn that he could simultaneously expand his artistic horizons and solve educational problems. He incorporated that balance into the way he worked with students as he interned in Baltimore, and then in his role as a full-time art teacher at Pathways after graduation.
Shocked that many of his students couldn’t even look in a mirror as he tried to get them to create self-portraits, Hooper soon became known for using the creative process to help students who had given up on education find a way to re-engage. His fierce advocacy for students led the school to appoint him vice-principal, and then principal. Today, he leads 30 staff members—including teachers, a job coach, a work crew supervisor, and a transition specialist— who work with students on multiple levels to ensure that they can become productive citizens and live out their potential using their talents. Pathways’ goal is to ensure that their students graduate with a job in addition to their diploma.
Hooper’s artistic training at MICA formed a foundation for how he performs his job. Students with problems who make it to his office are sometimes surprised to discover that they often aren’t going to get a lecture, but instead be encouraged to start a “visual journal,” drawing in the blank notebooks Hooper keeps in his office. The practice, which he imported directly from his MICA assignments, helps students release the frustration built up because they can’t express themselves, whether they choose to share what they have created or not. Most of the time, he says, students return to ask for an additional book after they have filled the first one up.
Hooper's office is full of art, including drawings, art books, notepads, and his own visual journal from his MICA days.
Even his staff members have been affected by Hooper’s MICA education, coming to him for their own “teaching moments”—the solutions-based vernacular he built into the school’s culture as an alternative to talking about challenging situations solely as problems. And even though his job requires a lot of dedication, he still manages to squeeze in time to create his own art.