Students in Sam Supnet's classes practiced their spelling, grammar, drawing and public speaking by designing boxes of cereal.
They researched what they liked and disliked, created a cereal box and presented a commercial. It was Supnet's way of infusing creativity into teaching.
"Anybody can teach a worksheet out of a book. Not everyone can make it practical and relate it to students," said Debbie Sanders, whose three daughters — ages 8, 10 and 12 — had Supnet as a teacher.
The Sanderses and other Standiford Elementary School families and staff are remembering the "tireless" Supnet after his sudden death from a stroke this past weekend. He was 64.
In a time of increased attention to math and English test scores, Supnet found a way to combine academics with art, music and drama projects, his peers said.
"It's a very important thing for kids to continually be exposed to and engaged in visual and performing arts, and the most valuable approach to that is when those are not separated from the core curriculum but integrated into the core curriculum," said Matthew Shipley, Standiford Elementary principal.
Supnet accomplished this through performances. He's known for organizing a "Li'l Rascals"-themed variety show where he put to work each of his students' talents. Principals usually would play Elvis.
He also organized projects such as the cereal creation, and a project in which students researched university architecture designs. They used math to build models and improved public speaking by giving presentations. Just as important, they started visualizing their college education, Shipley said.
"This guy was tireless," the principal said.
Supnet taught second and third grades at Standiford and Woodrow elementary schools for nearly 15 years. He also had served four years in the Air Force and worked as a Stanislaus County social worker and a Pacific Bell engineer.
"He was a very intelligent, curious, thoughtful person. This led him to question the world around him and invite others to do the same. He wanted to understand how and why things were the way they were, and not just take them at face value," said Andrea Bennett, Supnet's daughter.
"He always felt like he had something special to give to the youth, and knew he could grow from them as well."
Supnet suffered a stroke Friday. Shipley found out Saturday, then called each school employee and family of Supnet's students. By Monday, a substitute teacher took over Supnet's class of 19 and counselors were on hand to help grieving students.
He is survived by his wife of 30 years, Deborah; two sisters; four children; and seven grandchildren.
Music was a big part of Supnet's life — he played in a garage band. His classroom is decorated with a jukebox and a mini stage with a microphone, guitar and drum.
Wednesday, students wrote goodbye letters to Supnet's family, listing the things they liked about him. One student noted, "He always gave us the hardest challenges. Last, but not least, he cared about us and never gave up." Another noted, "No other teacher could be just like him."
Visitation for Supnet is from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday. His funeral will be at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Franklin & Downs, 1050 McHenry Ave. A reception will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday at Standiford Elementary School, 605 Tokay Ave. Remembrances may be made to a memorial fund for education scholarships in Supnet's name at Valley First Credit Union, 549-8500.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.