public schools

April 2019 Arts Educator of the Month: Noel Spring


We are so excited to introduce you to our April 2019 Arts Educator of the Month, Ms. Noel Spring.  Noel is an exceptional art teacher at Rusheon Middle School in Bossier City, Louisiana.  She works each and every day to ensure that her students are introduced to and actively working on a variety of arts projects.  Additionally, she uses her art class in strategic ways that allows for math, science, reading and social emotional learning integration.  Simply put, she is fantastic! 


Noel was nominated by Jacqui Impson, the school counselor at her school.  Read her nomination below to learn more about the incredible work that she is doing in her role as art teacher! 

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


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


 She is a dedicated, brilliant, talented, amazing woman and teacher! 


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

Ms. Spring goes above and beyond the normal duties of an art teacher. She supports the students through mentoring with our PBIS Tier II Climb Program and provides extracurricular support with her Ram Pride Spirit Team. 


How would students describe this arts educator?

Many students say they love Ms. Spring because she believes in them even when they don’t believe in themselves. I’ve also been told they know when a teacher loves them like they are their own child and that Ms. Spring is one of those teachers. One of her students who needs behavioral support said, “Even when I don’t make the best decisions she is there to show me that she cares, even if it’s tough love.”




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

She incorporates Math, Science and ELA into her lessons on a regular basis. The projects the students create are wonderful! They have made architectural pieces from popsicle sticks to represent key places in the world (Eiffel Tower, Stadiums, Twin Towers, etc.) The students do historical research on their locations as they prepare their design drafts prior to building. They have made some incredible tribal pieces this year that the students were extremely proud to show in the art gallery at our school. Another great project that she has done is an “emotions in abstract” assignment. The students are able to express themselves through their art and they have used it as therapy as they work through issues with sexuality, racism, domestic violence, self-harm, suicidal ideation, etc. Many of the pieces turned out amazing! 



What distinguishes this arts educator from their peers?

In the Bossier Parish Schools  i3 Art Expo  this year, Ms. Spring represented Rusheon with a display of our students’ art work and she won 1st place in the Parish!! She is a vital part of Rusheon and is dedicated to improving the school and the students. We are blessed to have her on our staff and in our Ram Family! 






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.








Follow-Up: Amidon-Bowen Elementary School Black History Month Art Project

We previously shared an awesome art project that Amidon-Bowen Elementary School (Washington, D.C.) was working on in honor of Black History Month.  Read full story here. We were thrilled to get follow-up pictures of their exhibition "Taking Back the Island" and wanted to share with you as well!  Bravo, Ms. Perry, Mr. Dicke and Amidon-Bowen students! 

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Amidon-Bowen Celebrates Black History Month Through Special Art Project

It is our immense pleasure to introduce you to an incredible arts educator, Para Perry, and parent extraordinaire, Willem Dicke!   Ms. Perry is the music teacher at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Southwest Washington, D.C. and Mr. Dicke is a parent volunteer.  The dynamic duo has collaborated on several projects to help the arts come alive for students and the entire school community.  In celebration of Black History Month, they have recently teamed up again to create an incredible photography exhibit at their school.  We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask them a few questions about their inspiration for the project, remarkable collaboration and the amazing ways in which they are working together to engage students in the arts.  Keep reading to learn more about their important and inspiring project! 

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Describe your project.

Willem Dicke:  “Taking Back the Island” is an exhibit at the school of photographs taken by students in Ms. Perry’s class alongside those of an inexplicably forgotten African-American photographer Joseph Owen Curtis, who, after having been lent a camera as a boy, subsequently used his own camera to celebrate and document the people and places of his Southwest Washington neighborhood (which has a history of being referred to as “The Island”) during roughly the first half of the 20th century. It is part of an ongoing project by Ms. Perry and me to teach students about technology that relates to photography as well as video and music production 

The project has two intertwining purposes: the first of these is to showcase the result of the work of the students who made up part of our photography group CamShake, in which we attempted to teach the students not just the technical fundamentals of photography but to demonstrate how photography as an art is a powerful means of self-expression, a way of commenting on and documenting the world around them. It is the camera’s power as an instrument of documentation that ties it to the project’s second purpose: the showcasing of Joseph Owen Curtis during Black History Month. 

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Joseph Owen Curtis was a lifetime resident of Southwest D.C. who chronicled the area during the first half of the 20thCentury.  I stumbled upon Curtis’ work last month when I saw large copies of a number of his photos hanging in the basement of the church across the street from the school. As someone who has, for five years, been photographically documenting my Southwest community where I’ve lived for ten of my nearly thirty years in DC, I was stunned by them not only because I was aware that early/mid 20thCentury photos of the area, which was completely razed during the mid-1950s as part of the city’s “Urban Renewal” project, are rare, but even more rare was what the images depicted: a vibrant
social, cultural and architectural history of a largely African-American middle class that existed at the time. With its physical structures razed and its inhabitants dispersed, Curtis’ photos are a testament to a history that has been largely forgotten, and stand as a powerful refutation to the dominant historical narrative of the area as a “slum” or “shantytown” still peddled by the city’s newspapers, its own promotional materials, and even among those who argue for the historic preservation of parts of the quadrant. While there is universal condemnation of urban renewal as both a moral and practical failure, the subtext is that the “blighted” old Southwest was not really worth saving anyway. 

Beyond the technical and artistic aspects of photography, it is therefore the intent to show the students, many of whom come from families with roots in Southwest DC that stretch back for generations, that their community has a proud and rich history that has essentially been forgotten. By going out and photographing the exact sites that Mr. Curtis did they are reclaiming that history on behalf of their community and empowering themselves by becoming-- as our 3rdgrade teacher and DC Teacher of the Year Ms. Harper would describe them—change agents. If they are to be exhorted to “not let your zip code be your destiny,” as I heard when I attended the 5thgrade commencement last year, then they also deserve to know that their zip code was, for decades, a destiny itself, and a desirable one at that. As a Southwest resident for ten years and as the father of a daughter who will be from Southwest DC, I too have a stake in the accurate historic portrayal of our community. 

Curtis had the extraordinary foresight to write very specific notes at the bottom of his photos as to who was in them and, more importantly, where they were taken, which allowed Ms. Perry and me to take the students to the exact locations. The students did not just recreate the shots but did a terrific job of reinterpreting them according to their own instincts and visions. 


What was the inspiration for the project?

Willem Dicke:  The project initially grew out of Ms. Perry’s and my desire to harness the ability and enthusiasm for photography shown by Amidon-Bowen students at the holiday program Ms. Perry organized last December. I was taking pictures of the students’ performances with my professional camera when one of the students asked if he could borrow the camera. It was the most expensive camera I own with a heavy lens attached to it, but I thought I’d throw caution to the wind and see what the kids could come up with. I gave some of them some of them about a minute’s worth of instruction on operating the camera, and before I knew it I was surrounded by kids wanting to take pictures. Before long there were two professional cameras, a GoPro and and iPhoneX circulating among the students. When I transferred the photos onto my laptop when I got home I was stunned by the quality of some of the photos, to the point where I wasn’t sure if it had been me or a student who had taken some of them. 

Two weeks later, I stumbled upon a collection of Joseph Curtis’ photographs in the basement of the church located across the street from the school. Since our time working together to produce the school video, Ms. Perry and I have discussed offering a music technology class to the students once a week that would encompass music and video production along with photography. The Curtis photos with their analog GPS data gave us both a framework and a syllabus to help us fulfill the photography part of this goal. 

No small amount of thought was given to the question as to whether an elementary school was the proper place for a project to resuscitate an endangered photographer, but ultimately the words of one of the 5thgraders describing how his great aunt still remembered the old Southwest and that she hoped the community she knew would be remembered, along with the message of our DC Teacher of the Year, Ms. Kelly Harper, encouraging her students to be change agents held sway. Because who better than a group of fifth graders and their teacher to “take back the island” by taking back Southwest’s historical narrative and in so doing righting a historical wrong visited upon their own community? Ms. Perry and I have discussed the possibility of starting a Facebook page to house not just the public domain photos of Joseph Curtis, but to have the relatives of the students who are longtime Southwest residents send their photos into the school to Ms. Perry’s classroom, where I would show the students how to scan photos and subsequently preserve them for posterity. 


What do you want students to learn from this project?

Para Perry:  Students will know that the past is important but the present is even more important because they are creating it.  This will give students a better awareness of how things were and how quickly things can change. Students will develop an appreciation for their community both past and present.

Willem Dicke:  First and foremost, this project aims to teach students about photography. As an artistic means of expression or as was the case with Curtis, a tool for documenting his community. With the quality of cell phones cameras starting to challenge the quality of cameras aimed at professionals, learning just a few basic things about photography will help them take better pictures. And because those phones are also platforms through which they can reach wide audiences, how they represent themselves and their friends is important, not just because they’ll obtain more followers on Instagram but also because social media is increasingly being scrutinized by schools and businesses to assess applicants. 

Hopefully, the Curtis exhibit will show that they are part of a historical continuum, and that 50 years from now the spots they captured with their photos will seem as distant as the scenes in the Curtis photos now seem to them. 


Describe your parent/teacher collaboration on this project.

Willem Dicke:  Ms. Perry and I have been working together for over a year and half on projects that have included a school video, an Aretha Franklin tribute video, and a tribute to our DC Teacher of the Year, Ms. Kelly Harper. Ms. Perry herself has been an enormous inspiration to me. She’s not just an excellent music teacher, she also teaches life, love, respect for self and others, and above all “A-game”—or as she describes it in the lyrics to the school song that she wrote “You Gave Me Your Best/Never Settle for Less.” When she came to me with the idea of the school video—which would require an almost unheard of five-week schedule, the audio and video recording of her choir, countless hours of editing and then photographing every class in the school, since we both agreed that whatever we did together would benefit the ENTIRE school—she did not approach me with a privilege argument. She appealed to my sense of justice and fairness. She said, “Will, these kids deserve to have a school video just like their peers in more affluent zip codes.” And before she had uttered her second sentence I had my sword drawn, ready to charge at her command against the forces of tyranny and oppression! And, so, I agreed to do something on a scale and within a time period that all my previous experience as a musician, music /video producer and photographer said was impossible, but we got it done! It takes a hustler to know one, and Ms. Perry has challenged me in a way that I never have been because as a hustler, an A-gamer, she is like the musician in a band who is better than I am and as a result I have had to up my own game to stay even remotely close to her. In trying to describe her, I have been able to develop a vocabulary and a vision with which I aim to raise my daughter and a standard that I feel I have to meet. Without a hint of exaggeration, I can emphatically say that as a result, I have become a better husband and father and a more knowledgeable person in general. She is the backbone of the school and despite all of the time I have dedicated to Amidon-Bowen, I feel that this photography project and all the projects that come after I will be doing with a credit line the school has extended me. She and her students have taught me so much more than I have them. 

Para Perry:  Mr. Dicke has been a blessing to our school family and me. There have been so many things I have wanted to do with technology but needed two more hands, he has been four more hands.  He is one of the most creative people I have ever met. He’s full of ideas! I am blessed to have him as a collaborating parent partner. I call him my partner in crime; it’s all about the kids and families we serve.  He loves our students, our school and the SW community.  He has inspired me to do even more for our students and the SW community.


How does arts education impact the Amidon-Bowen school community? 

Para Perry:  The arts bring us together academically as well as socially as a school family. All of our students are performers in every way you can think of from Pre-Kindergarten through 5thgrade. I always say that the arts make both sides of the brain work, therefore we have brilliant students at Amidon-Bowen.

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How has arts education impacted each of you?

Para Perry:  When I was a young child in junior high school I joined the school chorus, it was at that time I realized that I wanted to be a choral music teacher. Through music I have had many experiences. I have performed in the presence of three U.S. Presidents and traveled abroad. I want my kids to know that the arts can give them opportunities beyond their wildest dreams. Music is my life at home, work and church.

Willem Dicke:  I never had any formal arts training, but I wish I had had an arts teacher like Ms. Perry for all the reasons I mentioned, but also because it would have made learning the guitar, piano and a few other instruments I play a lot easier. Learning the basics of music theory is now more important than ever, since so many artists are now their own producers and the key to being able to use, say, pitch correction software demands that type of knowledge


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