charter schools

May 2019 Arts Educator of the Month: Allison Smith


We are so thrilled to introduce you to our May 2019 Arts Educator of the Month, Ms. Allison Smith. Allison is a spectacular K-4 art teacher at Galapagos Rockford Charter School  in Rockford, Illinois.  She is beloved at her school and because of her strong instructional and planning skills, serves as a model to her colleagues school-wide.  She is dedicated to her scholars and regularly finds innovative and creative ways to encourage the pursuit of the arts not just at school but at home and in the community.  


 Allison was nominated by her supervisor, Stephanie Boeddeker.  Read her nomination below to learn more about the incredible work that she is doing in her role as art teacher! 

Congratulations, Ms. Smith!  Thank you for your vital contributions to arts education. 


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

 Allison is dedicated to the achievement of her scholars in art and all subject areas. She serves as a model for our instructors within her content and through her planning and organization in her classroom. 


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

 Allison encourages scholars to create and become an artist outside of the walls of her classroom. She ALWAYS has new and fresh displays of scholar artwork in the halls and takes the time to articulate what scholars are learning via their projects. She has taken initiative to create an art show for parents and makes art an important part of the curriculum in our school. 


How would students describe this arts educator?

 Scholars say Mrs. Smith is patient, caring, fun, and a great artist! 


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

 One of my favorite things that Allison does is a display she creates in the hall outside her classroom called the "Art Challenge Board". She encourages scholars to make art at home and bring it to her to display proudly. She tries to find ways to connect her content with scholars in their everyday life and encourage them to continue their journey as artists.


What distinguishes this arts educator from their peers?

 Allison really knows and understands scholars' academic levels outside of the art classroom. She takes time to understand what they are learning in other classes and supports them in other academic areas. She knows how to make her content important, while also investing herself in the school as a whole.

Everyday Artist Spotlight: Laura Monsreal

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We are pleased to introduce you to a talented, young, Latina artist, Laurel Monsreal.  Laura was born in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico and has been raised in the Chicago suburbs. She uses many art mediums, including painting, photography and film.  Laura’s commitment to pursing her passions: art, storytelling, women’s empowerment, wellness and spirituality is inspiring.  Continue reading to learn more about what inspires Laura’s art, what projects she is currently working on and how arts education has impacted her life!



Growing , Laura Monsreal

Growing, Laura Monsreal

Why is your art important to you?

Art to me is important because it helps me express myself, helps my mental health and helps me connect with community. 


What do you want your art to say?

I want my art to express the story that I am trying to express at that moment of my life.


What project are you working on now?

My current projects have been about connecting to the divine feminine energy, nature, and spirituality. 


The Blind Trick , Laura Monsreal

The Blind Trick, Laura Monsreal

What is your favorite artwork and/or artist?

Some of my favorite artists that have inspired me since 2017-2018 have been Vanja Vukelic, Pinot W. Ichwandardi, Abigail Halpin, Bella Kotak and Helen Dardik 


How has arts education impacted your life?

Art education has impacted my life in many ways. It has helped me express who I am as an individual, made me think about the world and how it works, and helped me learn new knowledge such as principles of design and elements of art. 

Follow Laura on Instagram and on Facebook.

Revealing Relief , Laura Monsreal

Revealing Relief, Laura Monsreal

Elephant Strength , Laura Monsreal

Elephant Strength, Laura Monsreal



My name is Laura Monsreal. I am a Chicago-based Latina artist. Born in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico and raised in the Chicago suburbs. The relationship I have with art stems from the love of storytelling. I am a versatile artist, who enjoys working with painting, photography, and writing. Aside from art, holistic health and wellness are my other passions. Just like art, engaging in movement, mindful eating, and meditation has helped and nurtured my growth emotionally, spiritually and physically. I believe that we must treat our bodies as our own temples. One thing I believe helps in connecting the self to its higher truth is self-love. Incorporating self-love in to our lives is important because we must learn to love, and take care of ourselves first before we can love others. Living in society can feel like such a rush that we often lose ourselves. Through my art, I strive to spread awareness of the importance of self-love. Other themes I focus on are nature, women's empowerment, equality, identity, and spirituality.








Everyday Artist Spotlight: Tyrese Avery

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We are over-the-moon excited to introduce you to Tyrese Avery, a brilliant young artist in New York City.  He is a spectacularly talented singer, actor and dancer.  Tyrese is an 11th grade student at Democracy Prep Endurance High School in Harlem and is actively involved in the performing arts program there.  He has stolen the show countless times, in numerous productions.  In addition, he is an award-winning member of his school's speech and debate team and is a member of a musical group called HIS-TORY.  We are so happy to have had the opportunity to interview him to learn more about his art and why it’s important to him, who his musical inspiration is and how arts education has impacted his life.  One thing we know for sure is that this young man is a bright shining star!  

What is your art medium?

Music has always been my first love. However, I’ve taken up acting and dancing and found that I have a place in all three. I’ve never been a visual artist in terms of drawing or painting, but performing arts is my calling. There’s nothing like it for me! 

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Why is your art important to you?

My art is really the only thing I have to call my own. As a minority, and as a minor, a lot of things can be taken from you without question. Even your will power may be taken. On the contrary, nobody can ever take away your art and what speaks to you. Art is the one thing that is very unique to me and it runs throughout my family’s blood. However, nobody before me has had the opportunity to excel and practice their art. 

What do you want your art to say?

I want my art to engage youth and adult audiences alike. I want to bridge the gap so parents and children better understand and communicate with one another. 


What project are you working on now?

Fools In Love (April, May)

Cinderella (June) 

West Side Story (June)

Who is your favorite artist?

I find it hard to narrow it down to one artist, but, growing up Michael Jackson was a huge influence for me. May he rest in peace. 



How has arts education impacted your life?

 Without arts education via the likes of the talented Jerry Phelps, Sarah Rosenberg, Luis Cardenas, Norberto Troncoso, Lisa Kowalski, Dominic Colon, Kaitlyn Kenney, and Julie Haggerty, I would not be where I am today. Truly these individuals have changed my life and I am eternally grateful for it. 




Tyrese Avery, a Junior in High School, is a scholar who has a yearning for learning when it comes to the arts. He is constantly engaging in extracurricular activities such as Speech and Debate, School musicals, and Open Hydrant Theater Company on weekends. His past projects have included Lion King Jr. (Rafikki), Hairspray Jr. (Link), Aida (Mereb), High School Musical (Zeke Baylor), and In The Heights (Benny). His upcoming endeavors include Fools in Love (Puck), West Side Story (Tony), and Cinderella (Prince). Other projects that are in the works include a workshop of a play in which he plays a Harry Potter like character (HP) who is the imaginary friend of the protagonist. This is a coming of age story of the protagonist who watched her parents go through cheating and separation. He also has his own musical endeavors with his colleague and partner Clayton Fountain (ClayClutch) as part of their musical group, HIS-TORY. Tyrese is also an acceptant of the BADA Conservatory program in Oxford England. 







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. 




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.


Matching Pitch in Middle School (and other true stories!)

by JoAnn Struck

Choir in middle school seems to be the meeting place for every student who loves to sing but has difficulty matching pitch.  The choir program at my school excludes no one.  Everyone who wants to sing can join.  It’s my job to help them become better singers.

It’s a misconception that middle school boys are the only ones who have trouble matching pitch.  Don’t get me wrong, they and it’s obvious when their voice becomes its own alien being.  Even though my feeder school music teachers do a fabulous job of teaching kids to sing, there are still some who just can’t do it.  It’s not anyone’s fault…it’s just what it is.

I’ve been to countless workshops on the boys changing voice.  They all had wonderful things to offer and I use many of them.  There are many physiological reasons for the boys voice change that I won’t go in to here.  Please check out the list of books at the end of this article if you want to further dive into that aspect. 

Over the years I’ve created my own hybrid method of working with these unpredictable voices using everything I’ve learned from workshops and the experience I’ve gained working with my students.   I have also found that this works great with girls, too!  At the beginning of the school year, this is one of the first warm-up exercises I use with the whole choir.  It’s rather magical.

This method came from my good friend Dr. Steven Curtis, retired choral professor from Oklahoma University.

For any student that has trouble matching pitch, have them talk to you until you find their speaking pitch on the piano.  Use that pitch as a starting point.  Have them sing ‘ah’ on do-re-mi-re-do.  Dr. Curtis explains that if a boy (or girl) is having trouble matching pitch, they will have a much better chance of matching 3 pitches instead of a typical 5 (do-re-me-fa-so-fa-me-re-do) that we would use as a standard vocal warm-up.  I use ‘ah’ because I can hear them better and I can hear when their voice changes into their upper register or (for boys) pops and cracks or just plain disappears.  Have them sing this moving up by half steps until they run out of notes and do the same descending by half steps. This gives you their current range.

Now the real work begins.  In my classroom we are very comfortable (even with girls present) talking with the boys about what pitches they can or cannot sing.  (this is a subject for an entire different blog post).  I explain to any student having trouble matching pitch that they must use the daily warm ups as a chance to broaden their range.  I am careful to include the 3-note warm-up for quite a while until I feel most of my students are matching more and more pitches.  Sometimes I will ask an individual section to do a warm-up so I can check their progress.  I will also have students come individually to work with them and their unique vocal issues.

True story #1:  I had a 7th grade girl that constantly sang way too low.  Sometimes an octave lower that the music was written.  I had her come in before school and discovered that her elementary teacher had told her not to sing.  GRRRRRRRRR!  This girl loved to sing but no one took the time to help her.  Within 5 minutes of a few warm-ups and a quick reminder of how to produce a good sound, she was singing on pitch. She had no actual vocal problems, just a lack of instruction.

True story #2:  Last year I had an autistic girl who sang in the stratosphere no matter what I did.  I had her begin coming in once a week for a “lesson” (15 minutes).  I started her with the 3 note warm up and discovered she could match pitch by herself.  We started singing simple songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and I would change the key each time we repeated it and she could match pitch.  One of her vocal problems was tension.  I would constantly tell her to relax and her pitch matching improved immensely.  So we made a signal between her and me to help her remember to relax during a rehearsal or performance.  Part of her issue though was the need for repetition.  Most autistic students need lots of repetition for everything they do.  By the time we were ready to perform for the concert she had learned the music well and could sing on pitch most of the time.  It was so fun to watch!

True story #3:  I had a young man join choir for the first time in 7th grade.  He had a bit of an advantage because he had been in orchestra since 4th grade and already had a strong idea of performing in-tune).  He literally had 5 notes he could match.  I took him through the process I mentioned above and told him if he wanted more notes (larger range) he was going to have to work for it.  I explained that he should never sing anything that was painful but it was OK to stretch his range each time we warmed-up.  Daily, I could see the look of concentration on his face as we did warm-ups.  It was delightful to watch!  By the end of the year, he had increased his range to over an octave.  I was so proud of him!

Can every student match pitch? I believe they can.  It takes work from you, the teacher, as well as the student.  It won’t happen overnight and sometimes it might take longer than you have them as students.  Put in the work. It’s worth the effort!


Check out the following resources for voice building:

Strategies for Teaching Junior High/Middle School Male Singers

The Boys' Changing Voice

Working with Adolescent Voices

Finding Ophelia's Voice, Opening Ophelia's Heart


JoAnn Struck has begun her 33rd year of teaching music in the public schools.  She has taught music for K-12th grade and has spent the last 25ish years teaching middle school choir at Capps Middle School in the Putnam City School District in Oklahoma City, OK.  She earned her B.M.E from Southern Nazarene University and her M.A in Choral Conducting from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  She continues to question her sanity but truly loves teaching middle school.  She can be reached at