Two Memphis arts teachers win top state award

Two Memphis visual arts teachers were named Art Teacher of the Year by the Tennessee Art Education Association.

Ebony Johnson, who teaches at White Station High School, is the 2014-15 High Level Art Teacher of the Year. And Jennifer Shiberou, who teaches at Colonial Middle School, is the 2014-15 Middle Level Art Teacher of the Year.

Jennifer Shiberou, a teacher at Colonial Middle School, is the 2014-15 Middle Level Art Teacher of the Year.
PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Jennifer Shiberou, a teacher at Colonial Middle School, is the 2014-15 Middle Level Art Teacher of the Year.

The Shelby County Schools teachers were selected by peers across the state for the honor, which is given annually to three teachers.

“I’m really pleased to be able to give back to the system that gave me a really fabulous education,” said Shiberou. “I went to Memphis City Schools and had a great art teacher, and decided to become an art teacher myself.” This is Shiberou’s 12th year teaching art.

For each of the past four years, Shiberou has led her eighth graders in creating a project focused on a different social justice. Last year, students produced an exhibit of art focused on poverty in Memphis.

“The exhibit as a whole functions not just as an art show, but to communicate a social issue,” Shiberou said. “It’s been a uniting experience for the students who’ve gone through it.”

“Eighth grade—that’s the age where you become aware of what’s going on around you,” Shiberou said. “It’s a difficult age, but an age where you can make a strong impact.”

Johnson, who is in her fourth year as an arts teacher in Shelby County, said that she also aims to help high school students students learn and communicate about issues that affect their lives. In one of her upcoming projects, White Station high schoolers use art to reflect on education policy.

A flyer for an upcoming White Station art show focused on students' feelings about education policies.
PHOTO: Ebony Johnson
An upcoming White Station art show, put on by Ms. Johnson’s students, includes art based on students’ experiences with standardized tests.

“Essentially what they were doing is examining how it seems like their identity—their ethnicity, culture, education—seems to be replaced by their proficiency level in standardized testing,” she said.

Johnson said her students know to expect a rigorous workload in her class. “Yes, it’s an elective. But you know when you come in, this is just as important as science and math. What I’m teaching you is to how to have a voice and a visual language to express yourself.”

“Nothing is off limits in that room,” she said.

“I am extremely proud of Mrs. Shiberou. She is a great art teacher and a pillar of the work at Colonial,” said Marty Pettigrew, principal of Colonial Middle School, in a press release. “She constantly guides students to express their thoughts through the visual arts.”

“Ms. Johnson is a hard-working and dedicated teacher devoted to her profession, her students, and her content,” said Gregg Coats, Visual Arts & Theatre Instructional Advisor for Shelby County Schools, in a press release. “She is continually promoting, exhibiting and involving her students’ works in competitions, performances and exhibitions.  The level of her leadership and work ethic representation is strongly indicative of her professionalism and organizational skills.”

Both teachers will be honored at a ceremony at 6 p.m. on Oct. 23 at the University of Memphis.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.