Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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January 01, 2014

Becoming a Citizen of the Earth

In many ways I believe my greatest contribution to arts advocacy has been my success in organizations and competitions that are not art specific. Frequently I have been the lone fine arts teacher among a pool of so-called “core subject area” teachers. Having a highly qualified arts educator who is adept at collaborating effectively on cross-curricular efforts does a great deal to advance the role of the arts in education. Two recent examples of this type of advocacy are my participation in the Fulbright sponsored US-Japan Teacher Exchange on Education for Sustainable Development and the Toyota International Teacher Program in Costa Rica.

Here’s how I described my interest in these programs when applying:

When students see themselves as citizens of the Earth, they begin to view sustainability as a global responsibility that transcends individual differences. Viewing art from a constructivist perspective, I see the objects students make as vehicles to better understand oneself and our relationship to other people, places, and times. I believe the goal of teaching art in the public schools is not to create future artists, but to challenge students intellectually and support them academically. In my art class students make things, but they also investigate, write about, and talk about the things they make. I view art as a means for fostering interpersonal skill development and cultural understanding—essential skills in today’s workplace. My strengths as a participant in these international study and environmental education programs stem from my previous experiences teaching both students and teachers in two content areas that are directly related to the goals of these programs: (1) Eco-Creativity, a term I developed based on the work of Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle). Eco-Creativity is about the link between environment and creative development, and (2) the power of art to foster cultural understanding and equity among people.

In addition to describing your teaching philosophy in terms that relates with the goals of the program you are applying for, connecting the experience to your students will also strengthen your chances of selection.

In support of my participation in the Costa Rica Program, my students created “up cycled” art that I then gave to students, teachers, and environmentalists along the journey. I posted pictures on my blog, entitled “Where’s my Upcycled Art?” Students then checked the blog to see who received their work, thus learning about environmental efforts in Costa Rica while establishing personal connections and engaging in learning about art and the environment in a more personally meaningful way.

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LEFT: We replanted endangerd plants in the mangroves of Costa Rica with students from a local school.
RIGHT: Prior to our visit to Costa Rica we trained in Florida’s  Everglades National Park. Among our Guides were members of the Teacher Ranger Program--classroom teachers who work as rangers on special educational projects in our National Parks each summer. They are holding recycled art made by my students as gifts for environmentalists I met on the trip.  

The “TURTLE ART FOR JAPAN” project is the main curriculum project that evolved out of the Japan-US teacher exchange.  In researching connections between Georgia and Japan, my students and I found that the sea turtles that lay their eggs on Georgia’s beaches migrate from the western coast of Japan. In recent years many of these turtles have been lost due to global climate change. My students created art to bring attention to this problem and to effect positive change. Proceeds from their efforts were used to jointly adopt a sea turtle from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center with Mr. Chikara Yoneda’s students from Nara Junior High School in Japan. Our Sea Turtle, “Huey” was fully rehabilitated and was released on July 4, 2013. His radio transmitter indicates he is on his way to Japan!   

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LEFT: At the Atomic Bomb site (now International Peace Museum) in Nagasaki, Japan. Each strand represents 1000 origami cranes made by school children from around the world as a symbol of peace and international understanding.
RIGHT: Having lunch with elementary students in Osaka, Japan.Bringing a sketchbook and asking kids who don’t speak your language to add drawings right beside yours, is a great form of communication!
This past summer I traveled to Turkey with 3 students who won the Istanbul Center’s Global Connections Art and Essay Contest. Connecting students to this project was easy since I was traveling with students on this once-in-a-life-time trip. While in Turkey, art history came to life as we visited important sites including Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, Troy, Ephesus, the Basilica of Saint John in Smyrna, and the house of the Virgin Mary. As a cultural experience the religious diversity we experienced visiting mosques, churches, and synagogues yielded new deeper socio-political understandings for my students and me. This contest awards middle and high school students and their teachers with trips to Turkey based on art or essay work created to reflect a changing annual theme. Fittingly for my students and me, last year’s theme was "The Human Footprint on the Environment: Impacts & Solutions."

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LEFT: Described on the itinerary through a rough translation as the “the experience of your life” hot air balooning over Cappadocia (Turkey’s Amazing National Park) was a true thrill.     
RIGHT: Dr. Burgamy with Trickum Middle eigth grader, Jane Zen, at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

If you are selected for an opportunity like these, it’s important to present and publish about your experiences. The timing of “calls for proposals” at professional conferences is such that often you will need to make a presentation proposal after you are selected but before you go on your trip. Don’t be afraid to ask other participants, even if you have not met them yet, to join you in “paying it forward.”

For more information on these specific opportunities please visit:

* Toyota International Teacher Program (trips to Japan, Galapagos Islands, South Africa, & Costa Rica) 
* Fulbright Sponsored Japan-U.S. Teacher Exchange Program for ESD (Education for Sustainable Development)
* Istanbul Center and Atlantic Institute Art & Essay Contest (2014 Theme: “Connecting Cultures in the Digital Age: How does social media change the future of our world?” Deadline Dec. 2013) 
* The US National Parks Service Teacher to Ranger to Teacher Program

-Aimee Burgamy, Ph.D.


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