October 1, 2007

High School Art Teachers Share a Vision and a Mission

By Jake Jacobs, The Macon Telegraph, Ga.

Oct. 1--Two Middle Georgia art teachers celebrated the end of a journey this weekend with 20 of their fellow travelers.

Ana Duhon of Macon's Westside High School and Grace Sharpe of Warner Robins High School are marking the final stages of study for a master's degree in arts integration from Lesley University at Vineville Academy.

A celebration took place at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the school. The women look to have their master's degrees from the distance-learning course before December.

Plus, the two were nominated by their peers for the 2008 Georgia Secondary Art Educator of the Year award from the Georgia Art Education Association. The award will be presented Oct. 12 in Augusta at the association's annual convention.

All that makes for quite a busy fall for the educators, besides their regular work teaching art to high school students.

In addition to advanced degrees and award nominations, the pair share a profound respect for art born of struggles early on in their lives.

Duhon, a transplanted northerner, is in her sixth year of teaching, with four years at Warner Robins Middle School before coming to Westside last year.

"Art was my outlet because I did not have an easy time at school," she said. "A high school teacher helped me persevere."

Duhon's early years were spent in Annapolis, Md., and the arts were all around her while growing up.

"My father is a musician, and my parents would take me to museums in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.," she said. "All my life, there's been this interest in art."

The family moved to Pennsylvania, and Duhon went to Penn State University where she graduated in 2001 with a degree in art education. She also met her husband, Brandon, at school, and the two moved to Warner Robins.

She got a job teaching art at Warner Robins Middle School while he attended the Southeastern Flight School to get his commercial pilot's license.

Sharpe, a native of Macon, attended Gilead Christian Academy where she was the valedictorian of her graduating class in 1986.

"I had what I would call a rigid education, but I felt like I couldn't fit into the boxes others set for me," Sharpe said. "I jumped through all the hoops and loops during school, but I just didn't feel like I fit in."

Her interest in art came at an early age, she said, as she drew pictures in the family Bible and stared fascinated at the color prints of biblical scenes, many by Renaissance masters.

One in particular held her attention.

"I especially liked the 17th century painting 'Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac' by Giovanni Battista Gaulli," she said. "Years later, I was thrilled to discover it at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. I feel like it was a gift to me."

Sharpe said she took every art class she could in school, and the studies helped her cope with her feelings of not exactly fitting in.

"I liked the freedom of art," she said, "and there aren't so many easy boundaries to hem you in."

Sharpe earned her associate degree with honors at Macon State College in 1990, then attended Florida Atlantic University, where she gained her bachelor's degree with honors in art in 1993.

After working in promotion and design for some years, she took a certification test and began teaching art at Warner Robins High in August 1997. She's now in her 11th year at the school.

While Duhon and Sharpe came to the profession by different routes, they both agree art education is essential but often is not given a high enough priority by many in education.

Duhon said she got involved in teaching art because of her passion for it and a desire to make a difference in the lives of students.

"I feel art does at times get short shrift in education, but without art this wouldn't be a beautiful world," she said. "We see art every day in the cars we drive, clothes we wear, and in our homes. Art really is all around us."

Sharpe said education as a whole is becoming more visual-oriented, but it can be a mixed phenomenon.

"We have been text-based in our education, but that is changing now to more visual-based learning," she said. "Children today have been exposed to TV all their lives, and with its fast-paced imagery that really slams into your face, there is an attention gap. There's no context many times and no allowance for focusing and reflection.

"What I'm doing is teaching respect for art. We do have arts in our lives with the theater and symphony but it seems to be more and more for the elite. We should expand arts so that it is for everyone, not just certain people."

Duhon said she paints and does ceramics, and as a teacher is stimulated when she observes students falling in love with art.

"Everyone is capable of learning art, creating art," she said. "Some may have more native talent than others but don't know it, and it's exciting to pull that out of them."

Sharpe said that as an artist herself she is involved with many forms such as painting, drawing and sculpture. But her best works don't bear the imprint of her hand.

"The students' work -- that's my artwork," the teacher said. "It's great to see them take an idea or a problem and generate their own solutions, design a way to answer the questions. These are the ones I value the most."


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