Five Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) art teachers were recently recognized by the Maryland Art Education Association (MAEA) as outstanding educators.

The association named three teachers as CCPS Career Art Educators of the Year. They are Kristina Blakeslee of Maurice J. McDonough High School; Christine Chinault of Malcolm Elementary School; and Gayle Krauss of Piccowaxen Middle School.

Christin Downie of the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center and Caroline Metcalfe of Indian Head Elementary School were named CCPS Novice Art Educators of the Year by the MAEA.

Blakeslee has been at McDonough for 10 years where she teaches freshmen through seniors in Art 1, Painting 1 and 2, Ceramics 1 and 2, sculpture, and advanced placement art and design. She also teaches art classes to students in the ACHIEVE program. “I love seeing my high school students apply the skills and concepts they’ve learned to amaze me,” Blakeslee said. “They are all so unique, and it’s exciting to watch them create artworks that I would have never dreamt of.” Art often reflects life, she said. “Our students are growing up in an age where they have access to almost any piece of information in a matter of seconds, so it’s even more vital than ever that we are helping them to think for themselves and make decisions,” Blakeslee said. “When our students create artwork, they are expected to think critically about the choices they are making, and to reflect on them afterward. Art is so engrained in our everyday lives that we often don’t notice it.” Living through and going to class in a pandemic has been a challenge. “Like most teachers, I’ve just really missed my students,” Blakeslee said. “I appreciate the glimpses of their personalities that I get through their artwork and from our conversations in breakout rooms on Zoom.”

Teaching art runs in the family for Chinault, the art teacher at Malcolm for the past 16 years. Her mother was an art teacher at Dr. Thomas L. Higdon Elementary School. “I enjoy working with elementary students because of the enthusiasm they have,” Chinault said. “Each level has their own challenges and rewards.” She believes art is a vital part of life, no matter what path a person takes. “It enables creativity, self-expression and helps build better decision-making skills,” Chinault said. Virtual learning has presented challenges — it limits the supplies students have access to and keeps teachers from physically helping them with a task — but it has led to some creative avenues. “I have learned a lot through virtual learning that I can continue to use when we return to in-person teaching,” she said. “I believe those challenges have made me a better teacher in the long run.”

Kraus has been at Piccowaxen for 15 years where she teaches visual art to sixth, seventh and eighth graders. She always wanted to be a teacher, and from the time she was in high school knew she wanted to teach art. “My high school art teachers opened my eyes into many new and exciting expressions and techniques,” Kraus said. She said her goal as a teacher is to do the same for her students and introduce them to the many facets of art. “Art is a form of communication,” Kraus said. “It is a part of all cultures. Art is vital for children to learn, no matter their age or abilities. Art stimulates the mind to see new worlds and possibilities.” Virtual learning has presented challenges but, “When I open the file of a student’s artwork, it is in that moment that I realize how creative my students are,” she said.

As an art teacher for students in sixth through 12th grade, Downie works with children who are figuring out who they are and how they feel about the world around them. That excites her. “In my opinion, there is no better tool to navigate one’s emotions, examine and analyze the outer world and process abstract concepts than through art,” she said. Downie teaches Art 1 and 2, Ceramics 1 and 2, and middle school general art at Stethem. “I specifically love working with the students at Stethem because it gives me an opportunity to build more personal connections with individuals who may have never felt comfortable enough to give art a real chance,” she said. The hardest part about teaching virtually is not being able to give her students a space devoid of distractions.

Metcalfe teaches students in the Three’s Program through fifth grade at Indian Head where she’s been for four years. Teaching elementary school students is fun, she said. And she believes that no matter their age, art helps people connect with themselves and with humanity.

Virtual learning has been an adjustment for many and Metcalfe found herself sharing ideas and success stories with other elementary school art teachers during their standard bi-weekly meetings. Metcalfe has introduced her students to digital art through drawing apps and other tools. “I have found that a few students preferred digital art once they discovered it, and have really taken off with the medium,” she said.

The MAEA recognizes outstanding people who are increasing the importance of quality art education at all levels. An in-person recognition is on hold due to COVID-19 guidelines, but the association is planning to formally honor award recipients later this year.

To learn more about arts education in CCPS, visit the fine and performing arts website here.


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