Teacher of the Year Finalist: The arts helps kids discover how to make their mark

Posted: Sunday, October 03, 2010

Glacier Valley Elementary School is rich in new and recognized art programs that are aimed at helping children better learn all foundation skills, and one of the key figures in that effort is one of three finalists for Alaska's Teacher of the Year award.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Lorrie Heagy, librarian and music teacher, has either spearheaded or been actively involved in bringing music and art related programs into everyday teaching at Glacier Valley -specifically programs associated with Art is Elementary. Those efforts are possible by large community support and involvement - not only financially but also by community members sharing their artistic gifts with students.

Heagy started with the Juneau School District at Juneau Community Charter School, which has an arts-based learning program. She decided she wanted to bring that to more schools and began working at Glacier Valley in 2002.

Heagy is inspired by seeing all students access learning opportunities they may not always get, that are possible by collaborative efforts of teachers, parents and community members.

"When teachers partner with colleagues and community members to integrate the arts into their instruction, they are creating classrooms that forge multiple pathways for learning, develop creative and critical thinking skills and encourage young people to express their talents and communicate their ideas in different ways," she said. "Through this rich artistic process where school and life intersect, students discover who they can become and how they can make their unique mark on this world."

The arts are another avenue for students to understand core subjects they may be struggling with and helps them to be engaged in what they're doing, Heagy said.

Heagy said when she was in elementary school, playing the piano helped give her confidence to overcome shyness and master subjects she struggled with, like reading. In junior high, she said music helped her get through dealing with cliques who placed priorities on who wore trendy clothing brands.

"It led me to small school families where friendships were built upon common interests like singing, after-school plays and early-morning band practice," Heagy said. "School had life!"

Heagy started Art is Elementary at Glacier Valley, which won the Kennedy Center's Creative Ticket National School of Distinction Award. Thirty-four elementary students traveled to Washington, D.C. to perform "Tides and the Tempest" a convergence of Tlingit and Shakespearean cultures by Dave Hunsaker.

Two programs, Morning Musicians and ballroom dancing, Heagy started as part of Art is Elementary, have since gone district-wide. Heagy has also instituted guitar club, drumming club, clay club, drama, integrated drama and arts at Glacier Valley. Her school also was the first non-New York school Carnegie Hall partnered with. Carnegie Hall enhanced the music program and donated wood recorders.

Local artists teach or help teach the topics. The program serves as professional development for the teacher and the artist as they both learn from each other. Other goals of the program are to improve school climate, build partnerships with families and community, make arts education a funding priority, and encourage team teaching.

Heagy works with teachers to integrate the arts into everyday core subjects or lessons. She teaches general music, band, violin, recorder and library skills for kindergarten through fifth grades and integrates the arts with literature-based activities.

Heagy recently was one of the inaugural members of the Abreu Fellows, where she spent time in Venezuela and Scotland learning about a violin program called El Sistema. Heagy implemented Juneau Alaska Music Matters, based on El Sistema, this year for kindergartners at Glacier Valley.

Heagy also teaches at the University of Alaska Southeast for its Basic Arts Summer Institutes for Alaskan teachers.

"I'm honored to represent the Juneau School District where I have benefited from working alongside knowledgeable and passionate colleagues," Heagy said of the recognition for being a finalist for Teacher of the Year.

Principal Ted Wilson said he is excited for Heagy.

"And I am not really surprised because she is a dynamo and is a mover and a shaker, a collaborator," he said. "She enjoys what she does, is energetic and has a lot of ideas that she's able to put into action. She's able to get teams of people to work together to bring new things to kids. Really, her goals in teaching are to offer students things that will both improve their success at school and to improve their life in general."

Wilson said he and others in the school have always seen Heagy as someone who's always trying to find new things to help students grow.

"She had already been recognized as an Abreu Fellow and doing the El Sistema work nationally," he said. "So for us it's a recognition of what we already see in Lorrie. That she's a great teacher and collaborator and somebody that should be recognized for what she does to work with kids."

The two other finalists for the state award are Linda Jo Klapperich, a language arts and reading teacher at Palmer Junior Middle School; and Trevor Townsend, who was a secondary English teacher in the Bristol Bay Borough School District when he was nominated. The winner is expected to be announced in November.

For more information on Art is Elementary go to http://bit.ly/cWlMte.

• Contact Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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