“Art and education are perhaps my two greatest passions in life,” said Ariana Zanecchia of Point Pleasant, N.J. Ariana is graduating from GCU with a Master of Art in Teaching (MAT) and a Teacher of Students with Disabilities (TOSD) endorsement. She will be certified to teach art to students K-12.
Ariana has carried her passion for art throughout her life. “I have been so fortunate to have received an incredible art education of my own from a young age. I attended an arts-based Steiner Waldorf School from the age of three through eighth grade, attended Pratt Institute summer programs as a high schooler, earned a BFA from another university, and studied abroad in Florence, Italy.” Ariana has spent years working on her craft, showing in galleries, and working as a commissioned portrait artist. She also spent her time working as a nanny.
While nannying, Ariana was inspired to alter her path and pursue education. “I was inspired towards this career path while working as a nanny for a middle schooler with special needs,” she said. “I wanted so desperately to know how to help this child and felt inadequately prepared. While we did connect through the arts, I felt there was so much more I could do given an educational background.”
Ariana’s passion to help students with special needs is also personal – she has dyslexia. “I have always had to work twice as hard and spend three times as long on schoolwork. After nearly 30 years, I am still grappling with this fact,” she explained.
However, Ariana has never let her disability get in her way. Instead, she said it is her superpower. “It has brought me endless joy to share my struggles with my students who also struggle with a variety of different disadvantages and/or disabilities that will require them to work just that much harder than others. This makes them feel supported and understood, and it makes me feel like every extra moment I have spent sounding out a word or painstakingly spell-checking a paper for the fifth time was worth it.”
“As a student with a learning disability, the arts were a place where I could shine rather effortlessly, not that it wasn’t work, but the arts allowed me to express myself, unencumbered by my disability which loomed so large in all other reading and written based disciplines,” she remarked. “This is one of the many reasons I chose to pursue a degree in education. I feel called to ‘pay it forward’ and to be a champion for the arts and a role model for students like me.”
As Ariana navigates life with her learning disability, she has also faced obstacles in her day-to-day life. “I’ve worked full time, been the primary caretaker for my son, and cared for an aging parent. It is a juggling act for sure, and I often felt I wasn’t doing enough on any one front,” she explained. “But, I also always prioritized school. I knew I was doing this not only for myself, but also for my family and my son. I hope that seeing me work as hard as I have will show my son what it takes to succeed.”
Not only has she completed the degree, Ariana has also excelled throughout her time at GCU. She has been nominated for the New Jersey Distinguished Clinical Intern Award and has received a GCU Academic Achievement Award “First Award.” She will graduate with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Ariana dedicates her success to her supportive husband, family, and friends, as well as GCU and their selfless staff. “GCU has been there for me every step of the way. It has been a long road from when I first visited the campus…maybe it was in 2016 or 17. My son had just turned three years old, and I was trying to figure out what path I might take next in life. The staff was so helpful in guiding me and was so patient and supportive,” she recalled. “Everyone here from the administrative staff to my professors are genuinely on my side and at times seem to bend over backward to make this an exceptional experience.” Ariana strives to have a positive impact on her students and help to change the world through art. She will make GCU and her family proud as she continues on her path. Her advice to others: “Just take it one day at a time and before you know it, you will achieve things you may never have thought possible.”