Washington School teacher named Illinois' top educator

Washington School teacher named Illinois' top educator

CHAMPAIGN – As an elementary school art teacher, Shauna Carey doesn't just teach children to draw. Her students have made their own paper and clay pottery. They've learned about architecture and the art of other cultures. She's incorporated photography and storytelling into her classes, and taught knitting.

But Carey also doesn't just teach children how to do art. She gives them "an understanding that art is an expression of people's lives, not just being good at drawing. Shauna brings a depth that is far beyond what people think of as elementary artwork," said Cyndy Lammert, whose children attended Washington Elementary School, where Carey teaches.

"Shauna is more than an art teacher," said Washington Principal Sherry Alimi. "She creates a close relationship with children, and she has high expectations of them as human beings. She uses art as a medium of teaching life skills and social skills. I think she sees appreciation of art and creation of art as something they'll use their whole lives."

Carey is being honored today as the Teacher of the Year for the state of Illinois, through a teacher recognition program sponsored by Wal-Mart. The Phi Delta Kappa International education association selects the winners in the program.

Washington School will receive $10,000 from Wal-Mart, and Carey will be a candidate, along with the winners in other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, for the National Teacher of the Year award. The winner will be announced later this fall.

Carey has taught in the Champaign school district for 31 years, and at Washington school since 1994.

After she won an award on the local level, Carey had the option of filling out an extra application to be a candidate for the state award. That meant getting letters of recommendation and answering four essay questions. She said she did it with the goal of getting money for her school.

"I'm so excited for my school," Carey said. "I think the kids at my school and the teachers at my school are really deserving, and we're in a situation where we don't get a lot of funding."

"She's a real leader in our school," said Washington music teacher Bob Smith, who nominated Carey for recognition by Wal-Mart. "She's very well-respected by all the faculty. She's somebody very unique. She really stands out as a leader and an advocate for doing the right thing."

Smith and Carey work closely together on projects, with Carey helping design sets and costumes for Smith's musical productions. Together, they've received numerous grants and been recognized with an award of excellence by the Illinois State Board of Education, and both have received Golden Apple awards.

Smith described Carey as a positive person with exciting and creative ideas who is willing to help others.

She also ties her art projects to what students are learning in other classrooms. For example, when children are learning about the phases of the moon in science class, Carey has them keep a "moon journal," with drawings of the moon over a month's time, and study how artists have portrayed the moon.

"What I like is being able to make connections for the kids between the art and everything else they do," Carey said. "Because of testing requirements and No Child Left Behind, teachers don't have the luxury of doing all the extra stuff they used to do, and I can do that. I can connect the core curriculum to their lives and to what I think is important about aesthetics and art."

Carey is planning a quilting unit that will relate to the study of the prairie, to geometry and to the birds some students are studying.

As Washington school's population has become increasingly Latino, Carey has taught about Latino artists and the history of Hispanic cultures. She features black artists and different styles of African art during Black History Month.

She has her students read about artists and the effect art had on their lives as a means of expression.

"She tries her best to not only to have artistic literacy, but to infuse literacy and reading and understanding into art," Alimi said. "It's more than just doing the art thing for her. She is absolutely a literacy teacher."

Sue Kapacinskas, whose daughters went to Washington school, called Carey an "awesome teacher."

"The great thing about Shauna is she always encourages all her students to just try whatever," Kapacinskas said. "She exposes them to so many different styles of artists and different mediums of art. It's amazing what the kids do. The art at (Washington) is some of the best art I have ever seen."

Alimi described a bistro Carey created last spring for the school's poetry cafe, with "brick" streets, windows with a rendition of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" behind them, construction paper lamps that looked like candles for the bistro tables, and Jackson Pollack-type canvases painted by some of her older students for the stage.

"I'm just totally blown away by her creativity, how she sees things," she said.

"She's creative, she's energetic, she's very collaborative. She's a good colleague. She's a good human being," Alimi continued. "She's sensitive to the needs of other people. Everybody loves Shauna."

But at the same time, she doesn't go easy on her students.

"She's tough on kids," Alimi said. "She has high expectations for them. She tells them, 'Your behavior is not appropriate. This is not acceptable.' I think they understand that if she is saying something to them, if she's correcting them, she's correcting them with love. If she seems stern, it's because she cares."

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