charter schools

March 2019 Arts Educator of the Month: Sheena Folkman

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We are thrilled to announce our very first Arts Educator of the Month, Ms. Sheena Folkman.  Sheena is an exceptional art teacher at LEARN 7 Elementary School . She works relentlessly every day to provide quality arts instruction to the Kindergarten – 5thgrade students that she serves on the West Side of Chicago. She is passionate, dedicated, innovative and is changing her students’ lives through the arts.  We honor her commitment, talent and transformative work at her school.  

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Sheena was nominated by her wife, Christina Folkman.  Read her nomination below to learn more about the incredible work that she is doing in her role as art teacher.  

Congratulations, Ms. Sheena Folkman! Thank you for your important contributions to arts education. 

 

Why do you think this arts educator deserves to be nominated?

Sheena takes art education to another level. She is referred to as “director” Folkman because her students are not just students, they are referred to as designers in her classroom. In only her second year teaching she has transformed the art program and enriched the lives of all of her students.

 

Tell us how this arts educator has gone above and beyond to help students.

Sheena ensures that her class is doing more than simply art production. Each unit starts with an art history lesson, focusing on a specific artist or art style. That lesson then ties into one of the elements of art, which is demonstrated through a project the designers complete for that unit.

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How would students describe this arts educator?

Creative, firm, funny, talented!

 

Please share the innovative and creative ways that this educator is teaching the arts.

Sheena makes sure to also speak to classroom teachers so she can connect to the curriculum as much as possible. For example, when the 3rd grade read a book about Jackson Pollock, the art room was suddenly transformed into a Pollock-like studio! The floor was covered in plastic, desks and chairs were moved out of the way, and jazz played in the background as the designers learned to drop, splatter with, and tap their paintbrushes to create beautiful Pollock-inspired paintings.

 

What distinguishes this arts educator from their peers?

Sheena is constantly thinking of how to change up the media used, connect lessons to students’ interests, and generally goes above and beyond in her classroom.

CONGRATULATIONS, SHEENA!

Everyday Artist Spotlight: Leslie Cannata Nance

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We are thrilled to introduce you to music educator extraordinaire, Leslie Cannata Nance! She is a multi-talented teacher and artist who has a genuine commitment to her students’ growth and development as musicians. Leslie has a deep, profound love for the arts and it’s evident in her work and performances. Check out her interview to learn more about the passion that drives her work as an educator and how arts education has impacted her life.

 

Why is your art important to you?

Seeing students be successful when they have otherwise not gotten the opportunity academically is my greatest achievement. Sharing my passion of music with others of all ages is not a “job,” but a joy. I absolutely love the subject I teach! I practice what I preach! My students know that I love what I do, and they know they have the opportunity to be successful like me because I share with them! I create relationships with every single student with whom I come in contact. 

  

What do you want your art to say?

Music is my life. I live and breathe music and performing – in any capacity. When I graduated from high school, I was faced with the decision of a) performing and making lots of money on Broadway or b) teaching the youth of America the importance of the performing arts. Obviously, I chose the latter. I have not regretted my decision to become a music educator one time! My students, ages 5 to 95, ALL know that I have a vested interested in them and want the best for them. I have worked with diverse school populations - at-risk students, high populations of impoverished families, special education – that require my constant attention to detail and a never-ending classroom based on relationship building.

 

What project are you working on now?

I am currently making the move from elementary music to secondary music - instrumental or vocal. I'm not quite sure what's in store for me in the near future, but I'm confident I will be the best!

 

Who is your favorite artist?

Oh, my goodness! There are too many to name and all for different reasons! To narrow it down to my top picks, though: 1. I absolutely love Bach and his attention to the musical elements in his compositions. 2. I'm a HUGE fan of The Who because of the lyrics and the drive in their sound. 3. Have any of you ever just spent time listening to The Red Hot Chili Peppers? I could go on FOR HOURS! 4. We would need to have drinks and brunch for 9 days about The Beatles.

 

How has arts education impacted your life?

How has it not? I live and breathe performance education. These children are our future, and I'm making that happen because of the interest my educators showed in me.

 

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Biography: 

Leslie Cannata Nance has been performing since she was a small child. With dedication and a lot of hard work, Leslie was given full scholarships to several universities to study music education. Leslie truly lives out her dream job every single day teaching children the love of music and performance. Leslie was hired before her college graduation in Pasadena Independent School District at Richey Elementary School as the Music Coordinator and Choral Director. Here, Leslie was awarded First Year Teacher of the Year. After a move to north Houston in 2009, she became the Music Coordinator and Choral Director at McFee Elementary School in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. At McFee, Leslie revolutionized the music department, as she was the third music teacher hired when the school had been opened for only two years. In May of 2018, Leslie accepted a position as music coordinator at Willbern Elementary School in CFISD.  In her first 3 months at this campus, she has implemented grade level performances and a choir, both of which were absent in years previous. Leslie gives every student in her classroom the opportunity to perform, as she feels this is one of the most important aspects of elementary music education. When Leslie is not teaching public school, she spends her time teaching private voice, piano, strings, and drama.

Leslie welcomes your questions and comments and has many resources she wants to share with you for free (including original musicals)! She can be contacted by email at leslie.nance@cfisd.net 

Everyday Artist Spotlight: Milton Washington

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We are thrilled to introduce you to an extraordinary mind and talent, Milton Washington.  Milton is a New York City-based artist who is self-described as, “A storyteller who writes a bit and has an iPhone with an eye.”  We’d describe him as a magical photographer, brilliant writer and an all-around exceptional creative.  We had the honor of asking him a few questions about his art, what inspires his work and we got the low-down on his new, upcoming project that we know you’re going to want to check out! 

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Read below to learn more about Milton and follow him on social media to stay connected!

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Why is your art important to you?

I feel my ways of expression connect deeply with people in a way that helps them face the truths of life and the truths of themselves. My art is important to me because it’s healing. 

 

 

What do you want your art to say? 

The things that most people don’t have the courage to say while inspiring them to speak the truth. It’s ok to flawed. It’s ok to feel less than. It’s ok to not match up. But find your place and your truth. 

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What project are you working on now?

A concept one-man show with photography, readings and storytelling rooted in my memoir. Heavy elements are balanced with hilarity of my life and the photographs are a demonstration of my perspective while also being a springboard into conversation.

 

 

Who is your favorite artist?

Being adopted from Korea at the age of 8, I started school for the first time in life. New language, new family, new culture. I’ve felt the deficits of illiteracy which weighs on my ability to consume academic aspects of life. All that to say, I’m not the most well-versed in art. But I do love MC Escher and the book by Herman Hess, Sidhartha. 

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How has arts education impacted your life?

I’ve never had formal art education but my experience of isolation in South Korea has instilled a deep-seeded need in me to express. I need it to live. I believe the need to express should be on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need. I believe my style and approach to my art is a both a function of who and what I am and my most effective tool to change the world. 

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Biography: Born in South Korea, Milton Washington was adopted and brought to the states in 1979 where he learned English and the American culture. Today, he lives in Harlem operating his Strategy, Sales Coaching and Public Speaking agency, Slickyboy Studios. He is months away from completing his memoir entitled Slickyboy. Slickyboy Synopsis: A fatherless black boy was born to a Korean prostitute a decade and-a-half after the Korean War. Left to roam his camptown with a pack of homeless kids, little Milton-ah fights, steals and drinks while his mother works long hours. All until the age of 8, when he’s adopted from the country that never claimed him, by a black military family from Texas, the Washingtons. Slickyboy is about the love and the loss of one mother, and a finding of another, with a lifetime of living in between.

How Art Education Affected Me, and Its Potential for Students

by Will Staton

 

As a child I didn't consider myself artistic. I drew a few pictures, as many children do, and I took music lessons briefly, but had little talent or inclination for it. However, I loved Legos. I had countless sets, and endlessly built, deconstructed, and reimagined them, creating entire pirate and knight worlds that covered tabletops in my childhood bedroom. My parents, thinking I might become an architect, encouraged my interest in Legos. 

Perhaps many people wouldn't consider playing with Legos as artistic. I certainly didn't until recently, but of course we count beautiful buildings and monuments as some of our most treasured cultural possessions: The Statue of Liberty; Taj Mahal; Eiffel Tower; shrines and temples and pagodas and churches; and increasingly, iconic skyscrapers, all of these stand out as great artistic achievements. And all of them were designed by people who, as children, played with Legos. 

Well not exactly. In fact it's possible that none of these were designed by people who played with Legos, but all of them were designed by people whose minds were nurtured by the creative spark that an arts education provides. 

At school children receive an education that is centered primarily on a core curriculum that includes reading and writing, math, science, and social studies. All of these are fundamentally important subjects, even if many adults don't remember or use all of the information they acquired in school on a routine basis. But arts ought to be included in this core curriculum for many reasons. 

The arts enhance interest and investment in other subjects. Arts give children a new, and often more exciting lens, to learn about other topics. To this end art classes compliment the core curriculum subjects, increasing engagement with the academic material, and fostering questions, as many arts classes explicitly teach children to think outside the box, whether that means drawing an imagined picture, writing a new song, composing a poem, or taking a picture. Experiencing and engaging with the world in this manner deepens the child's understanding of things. 

In the same manner, art fosters a sense of creativity that is healthy and helpful, even if it is not ultimately applied to artistic endeavors. Creative people will be problem solvers in their jobs and in their personal lives, more efficient and effective in the myriad little ways that we must be each day to accomplish what must get done. 

Most importantly, engagement with the arts fosters empathy. Art allows children to engage with different people, places, ideas, and cultures in a safe manner. It is a instinctive for us to be scared and skeptical of what is different, what is new. But art shares what is different, making it familiar, and allowing children to see beyond the differences, to see the person behind the art. Art breaks stereotypes. It gives different people common emotions. It humanizes. 

I did not become an architect as my parents predicted, but I do love art. I did write a book, and I am working on a second novel. I do think outside the box at my job on a daily basis, trying to find creative solutions to problems my team faces. I my relaxation and happiness in music. Because of art in all its different shapes and varieties, I am a better person. Art can help students become better, more successful people simultaneously broadening skill sets and world views. 

 

 

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Will Staton graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2008 with a degree in religion and history but without a real clue with what to do with his life or how to engage with the world. An idealist, Will joined Teach For America, and spent a trying yet rewarding two years teaching high school history in Memphis, TN. In 2010 Will moved to New York, and has been working in education ever since, serving in a variety of roles for different charter schools including five years with Democracy Prep. Will currently lives in DC with his wife Katrina, and is the Director of Scholar Support for Democracy Prep Congress Heights Public Charter School. He is the author of the book, Through Fire and Flame, a modernized rethinking of Dante's Inferno.

 

It's ok to be odd



by Adrienne Nyamsi

The story goes that my mother, tired of the loud 6-year-old singing Debbie Gibson songs in the house, finally asked ‘Why are you SO loud?’ But 6 -year-olds don’t understand rhetorical questions. So, I earnestly I explained, ‘because I need to hear my voice.’

I’m grateful that my mother heard and invested in the intent behind my throwaway response; what followed was a lifetime of vocal and piano lessons; my teens, singing in an award-winning children’s chorus and a specialized arts high school and my early twenties pursuing a BA degree in Music Theory and Performance.

The experience in itself birthed an apparent skill set; I’m a classically trained vocalist. I can read music (albeit slowly, these days). I have access to a part of my brain that non-artists perhaps do not.

What I did not realize was that there would be other less tangible but vitally important gifts that I’d receive, reference and most important, share with others for the rest of my life.

 

  1. I saw the world and expanded my idea of my potential

 

By the time I was 16, singing took me to London, the Czech Republic, Austria and much of the US. I’d sung at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and had been on the cover of the Art and Leisure section of the NYT.

I am the first, first generation American in my family. I am the child of two Cameroonian immigrants. I grew up in the 90s. Although my family made it clear that I had (and was required to reach my)  infinite potential, when I left my family’s warm embrace, I existed in a world that whispered a relentless counter message of low expectations for girls like me. But my experiences with music kept that message pianississimo, so to speak.

Everyday, access to art reminded me that absolutely anything was possible and that I was worthy, brave enough and talented enough to access such fortune.

 

  1. It’s ok to be odd

 

I was a strange art kid. You know, one of  those kids that came to school an hour before first period to have access to the piano and create 4-part harmonies to pop songs on the radio; Those kids who went to the Nederlander Theatre every Sunday morning to try to get cheap, front row tickets to RENT; those kids that once got reported to the police on the train for being loud trouble-makers, and when they came to investigate, they found six kids singing the 9th movement of the Bach Motets in E minor (we were, indeed, loud though).

We made perfect sense--to each other.  But a quick interaction with kids that had different high school experiences reminded us that we were as weird as possible.  

There are many interesting things that came to be true about ‘those kids.’ Perhaps the most interesting is that whether life took us to Broadway, the front of a classroom or a boardroom, that singularity and comfort with being left of center continues to be the secret to our success. We never did what everyone else did. And that was ok.

I wonder, what might life be like if more kids were affirmed for being different? Whom might they be brave enough to become?

 

  1. Discipline was regular part of my childhood

 

From the ages of 11-18, Tuesdays and Thursdays afternoons were devoted to choir rehearsal. And so I, along with about 60 young people, fresh from eight hours of school, would shuffle into our rehearsal space. We sat like overcooked noodles in our chairs. Limp. Insolent. Over it.

In response to a room vibrating with teen apathy, our choral director simply said ‘Sit for singing.’’

Like alchemy, every back slid forward and our feet found firm ground. Regardless of what happened during the school day, what followed my choral teacher’s call to action was two hours of physical, mental and artistic focus.

‘Sit for singing’ is a declarative statement but it was never, ever a demand. No one forced me to do this work. No one forced me to keep poring over my music binder long after rehearsal was dismissed. But I learned early on that access to music required an investment of my time, mind and body. And so, I did it.

 

  1. I think creatively about my work and find unique solutions to tricky situations

 

Like many musicians, I have tons of stories about that ‘one time’ the show did not go as planned. That time when I was 11 and a soprano fell off the riser (she’s ok!). That time when my college friends and I sang a quick Messiah for Christmas money and someone fainted just as we got the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ (she’s ok! Handel probably isn’t too pleased, though). That one time I sang background vocals for someone, she couldn’t hear the key, came in completely off-pitch and whole band had to figure out how to either get her back on pitch or transpose to meet her, mid-song.

Here’s what I know now; often, life happens in between the plans you make about how life will unfold. At work, things can fall apart. But ability to trust that they will resolve,  that there is always a solution and that the solution may be an unexpected one is a lesson I learned as a child, on the stage.

The experiences I had as a young artist were profound. I am, without a doubt, a better, smarter, human because of it.

 

 


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Adrienne Nyamsi is a political and issues-based campaign operative and education equity advocate. She has worked on hyper-local, city and state-wide political and issues-based campaigns in leadership capacities across New York State. Currently, she is the Senior Director for Community Impact at Democracy Prep Public Schools. In her role, she leads the scholar recruitment and enrollment process and designs the hyperlocal community engagement strategy  for DPPS schools across the nation.  Adrienne holds a B.S in Political Science and  a B. Mus from Hunter College.   She is a Coro Fellow and has received campaign operations training through Emily’s List and the New American Leaders Project. She’s also a recovering fashion blogger and life-long singer that doesn’t sing much these days and thus, she’s kind of angsty.