Back-to-school time will be a little different for Edith Lockett this year: The 84-year-old has retired from 47 years of teaching art at St. Anne Institute, a treatment center and school for troubled teenage girls in Albany.

The educator recently reflected on half a century - she previously taught in Troy and headed a nursery school in Maine - of influencing hundreds of young lives.

Her students influenced her more than they probably realize, she said.

"For a large part of my life, I never thought I was good enough," Mrs. Lockett said. "To be evaluated positively for so many years - it's always meant a great deal to me."

Over the years, her art classes have had waiting lists, she's been asked to escort students at graduation ceremonies and alumni have often returned to visit her.

"It's just been so unexpected," she said of her popularity, "and I'm grateful for it."

Palette of lessons
Some of the credit might stem from Mrs. Lockett's lesson subjects: ceramics, jewelry-making, art history, textiles design, crafts and batik cloth-dyeing. Students often sold the works they created in her classes.

Her department sponsored Renaissance fairs, doll and teddy bear festivals, visits from guest artists and trips to Broadway plays and museums in New York City.

As a form of community service, Mrs. Lockett's students made ornaments for a Christmas tree exhibited at the Albany Institute of History & Art's Festival of Trees for two decades. The students also decorated the tree in the state Executive Chamber and met former Gov. Mario Cuomo several times.

The art teacher said her students wouldn't have had these opportunities in traditional schools.

"I wanted them to be able to do things here that mattered to them," she said simply.

A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Mrs. Lockett has a bachelor's degree in art from The Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla., and a master's degree in education from the University of Maine in Orono, Me.

"I wanted to teach," she remarked, "but I never thought of teaching 50 years."

Art helps girls
Nor did she picture herself teaching children with special needs. She said it was sometimes difficult to work with girls who were abused or raised in dysfunctional homes: "You wonder, 'Where is God in this?' But you just have to keep holding onto your faith."

Art speaks to students who struggle with emotions and mainstream academic subjects, Mrs. Lockett said.

"It's a wonderful release from tension," said the teacher. "You can lose yourself completely. I think that's important - to be completely engrossed in something you have a passion for."

Letters from students prove they carry Mrs. Lockett's art lessons throughout their adult lives, whether they design shoes for a living or quilt for fun.

Impact lingers
Martha Mryglod was Mrs. Lockett's student in the early 1970s. She is a social work aide at LaSalle School in Albany, which serves troubled teenage boys, and a part-time nurse at a St. Anne's residence. She said Mrs. Lockett inspired her work, her art hobbies and her parenting.

"I don't think that she has any idea of the impact [she has] had on my life," Ms. Mryglod told The Evangelist. "She just brought out the best. Even if you didn't have the talent, she found something you could do. Her belief in me [made] me open my eyes to not just look at things, but to see them."

Ms. Mryglod has passed one of Mrs. Lockett's adages, "Find something beautiful in everything," to her own children.

"She never changes," Ms. Mryglod said. "She's always been very sweet, very calm. She offered every student confidence [and] went beyond to help us see ourselves beyond St. Anne's art room.

"You were safe there," she continued. "She's a very peaceful person. I think it's a gift from God."

Remember when
When Mrs. Lockett started at St. Anne's, students wore uniforms and weren't allowed to talk in class. The student body was more than double its current size, and girls stayed at the school longer. Today's poor economy affects counties' ability to place girls at St. Anne's.

Mrs. Lockett was the only art teacher, but eventually became chair of a department of music, dance and visual arts teachers. Her own classes were capped at five or six girls.

Every few years, Mrs. Lockett took classes to maintain her teaching certification and also attended local colleges to learn more artistic skills. She was a region representative of the New York State Art Teachers Association, which named her Art Educator of the Year in the late 1990s.

Having faith
"Without God, I think we would be absolutely lost," the teacher noted. Faith "has guided my life in ways that I don't really suspect. I learned a lot about respect for others."

Mrs. Lockett has been a parishioner of Our Lady of Fatima in Schenectady (now merged with St. Helen's as Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha parish, soon to be St. Kateri Tekakwitha) for 40 years. She's served as a catechist; pastoral council member and president; and member of the renovation committee.

"It just means a lot to me," she said of her faith.

Mrs. Lockett lives in Schenectady. She has three children, one grandchild and three step-grandchildren. Retirement will allow her more time to create her own art - and possibly start writing her autobiography.

"It's been a very rewarding life," she said. "Come fall, I'm going to think about the staff and the girls. But I [won't] miss it, because it's time."