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.



Join the largest creative community established exclusively for visual arts educators, college professors, researchers, administrators, and museum educators.

Join NAEA Renew Membership

« January 2014 | Main | March 2014 »

Wednesday 02.26.14

Publishing Yourself and Your Students…

Another way to promote student artwork is through writing articles for magazines. School Arts and Arts & Activities have writer’s guidelines online. I have always enjoyed writing, but did not think I would ever get published. I decided to give it a try and my first article; Kindergarten Monets was accepted and published in Arts & Activities. Another article, A Midsummer’s Day Dream was accepted by School Arts. The next two articles were not accepted, but, as the saying goes, “you can’t win them all”. I didn’t give up! I have submitted two more articles, which are under consideration by Arts & Activities.

It is very rewarding to see your article and pictures “in print”. It’s even more exciting for the students. You can also try submitting artwork and information from your students for the Young Artist section in Arts & Activities. Two of my students have been featured.

Celebrating Art is a national art contest held in the spring, summer and fall. You submit pictures of your students’ artwork online. The entries are reviewed and if accepted, are published with parental permission. There is no cost to enter. If you have more than fifteen students published, your name is entered as a Teacher of Distinction. There are also prizes for students who are in the “top 10”. We haven’t made it to the “top 10”, but we have had 6 students receive “High Merit”. One hundred and seven students have been published in 4 books. Not all artwork is accepted. The books are very attractive and cost approximately $30.00. Teachers receive a free book if a certain amount of students are published.

Cel.-art-5-1yxv2mi-e1364514278736-226x300[1]   Cel.-art-10-2lid8cd-e1364515737774-210x300[1]
Sample page from Celebrating Art (left) | Top Left artwork: High Merit (right)

-Suzanne Dionne

Monday 02.24.14

Arts Schools Network

If you teach in an art school, you can become a member of Arts Schools Network (ASN). There is an annual conference, which in some ways is like the CAEA conferences/NAEA National Conventions. You can tour some of the schools in the vicinity of the conference location. It is very exciting to see how the arts are taught in other schools. I was able to attend one of the conferences, which was held in Chicago, and came back inspired with some new ideas to incorporate in my teaching and lessons. ASN not only includes the visual arts, but all of the arts.

P1020270  P1020358
Chicago Skyline (left), Chagall's Four Seasons (right)

P1020296  P1020325
The Willis Tower...overcoming my fear of heights! (left), The Chicago Picasso...I touched it (right)

If you like to write, you can submit articles on best practices. I submitted one called Integrating Art with Technology, which was about Artsonia. There is also a blog that you can take part in. ASN is also offering webinars to its members.

P1020387  P1020393
From a school visit: Fashion show of handmade, cultural dresses (left), Students dancing (right)

I am on a committee at my school that is working with ASN to encourage its elementary school teachers to take part in submitting student artwork for a calendar that has been entitled Celebrations & Holidays. This is yet another way to promote student artwork. How exciting for a young student to have their artwork featured in a calendar!

P1020468  P1020659
Inside the Art Institute of Chicago (left), The Cloud Gate at Millennium Park (right)

These are just some of the things that I have been involved in with ASN. If you visit their website, you can find out much more information on what the organization is about and what programs are offered.

Inside the Cloud Gate

-Suzanne Dionne

Thursday 02.20.14

Artsonia Advocate

Four years ago, I learned about a company called Artsonia at a CAEA state conference. It had quite an impact on my teaching. Everyone loves Artsonia – the students, parents, staff and administration. Artsonia has been around for years, but I didn’t know about it! There are still teachers who do not know about it.

Looking at the new Core Arts Standards, I realized Artsonia can be a useful tool for meeting many of the requirements on presenting and responding. Artsonia can serve as a type of e-portfolio. It is also a “museum” of student artwork from all over the world. My students enjoy looking at what other children are making in other countries.

There are areas for students to make statements on their artwork which can serve as an assessment instrument for responding. I have a parent volunteer who asks students about their artwork during class and helps them enter their responses.

Another great feature is effortless fundraising. We usually raise approximately $500 per year. It may not seem like a lot of money, but to me, it is wonderful to buy supplies for a “special” project, or to be able to order something that I ran out of, etc.

You never know when something special is going to come your way from Artsonia. I was able to enter the artwork of three students for the Artsonia display at Big Screen Plaza, at the 2012 NAEA National Convention in New York City, and one student’s artwork for the NAEA/Artsonia exhibit.

Jaylen, NYC

If you are feeling the need for a “spark” in your teaching, try looking into the many programs available on Artsonia. Reflecting on my years of teaching, the programs offered by Artsonia were the most important I became involved with. My t-shirt says it all!


Check them out online!

-Suzanne Dionne

Tuesday 02.18.14


Do you ever find yourself trying to recall a special event that your students were involved with? I decided to create a blog to recognize and document student achievement. I wanted students who worked very hard and accomplished remarkable things to have a little more than just the “joy of the moment”. During the school year, I like to create posters to celebrate these happenings and place them on the wall outside of the art room.


I found that edublogs was stress-free to work with. I pay a small yearly fee to have the format I use, but many are free. Memory is a consideration, if you are going to be including numerous pictures. To save space, I upload all movies to SchoolTube and then provide links on the designated posts. You do not have to be a tech-expert to work with edublogs or SchoolTube. I learned how to use these without any training. Once you create your theme and first post/page, it becomes easier and quicker.

Before posting anything about students, a “blog permission slip” is sent home. This is also a good way to let parents know about the blog. Our school, also, has a media coverage policy. Any student that is not allowed to be photographed or videotaped is listed there. I have found that most parents will allow their child’s first name to be used.

The benefits? Increase student self-esteem; record of accomplishments and activities; recognition of visual arts program; exposure! One of the most exciting things that happened, because of the blog, was connecting with Debra Frasier, the author who was mentioned in my first post on Shadow Puppet Theater.

If creating your own blog seems intimidating, but you enjoy sharing through writing, there are blogs that you can write for. I had a wonderful experience writing for The Teaching Palette. As the writer, you submit your article and pictures, and the rest is done for you.

-Suzanne Dionne

Friday 02.14.14


If you are looking for an art project to replace Valentine’s Day crafts, you might want to consider an Heartsactivity like this…You can do this any time of the year.

Two years ago, I learned about an organization called the Exchange Club in Waterbury, where our school is located. I was really impressed by the individuals and families that participated in a variety of charitable activities through this club and thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for our students to become involved.

I explained to students that we would be making artwork that would be sold. The money would go to charity to be used to help fight child abuse. We had a discussion on what charity means. At first, I thought younger students might be hesitant to give away their artwork, because they look forward to completing it and bringing it home. I was surprised that everyone was willing and excited to be working on this project. All of the student artwork is posted on Artsonia, so students would still be able to share with parents what they had made.

The first year, that we participated in the Exchange Club, first grade students created approximately 200 ceramic snowflake ornaments. Students in a second grade class painted birdhouses. I had to finish these, by hot gluing the embellishments. This year, second grade classes will be painting the birdhouses again.  Projects like these help teach students about sharing. They also learn that their artwork is meaningful and valuable.

Snowflake Ornaments. First grade students with Kathy Craig (right) from the Exchange Club.

Birdhouses. Second grade students.

Second grade students painting birdhouses

Completed birdhouse

-Suzanne Dionne

Wednesday 02.12.14

More than “Just” Art Supplies! Sax and Dick Blick

Take a closer look at Sax! About a year and a half ago, I received an email that they were looking for Heartstudent art to feature on the cover of their catalog. Not being able to resist the opportunity, I submitted over 30 artworks. I heard from Sax, because they featured two of these (both kindergarten) on their website. It was not the cover, but exposure nonetheless. Just recently, another email came and this time, one has been chosen to be on the cover of the Spring 2014 catalog. I believe it is a great accomplishment for a second grade student to have their artwork viewed by approximately 250,000 people. If you are interested in publicizing student artwork, you may want to consider contacting Sax for guidelines.

Sax website Artwork by Mia

Sax website Artwork by KaLynn

This is "Sax Catalog Spring 2014 Artist" Hannah

Dick Blick offers a wonderful program called Art Room Aid. It is very easy to sign up and does not take much time to do so. We have received two fully funded art projects. Each was under $200.00. The first project was a request for supplies for second grade students to make African masks and was funded by one individual. Our second request, for first grade students, was for self-hardening clay to create Sugar Skulls in celebration of Day of the Dead (Mexico). We also received Mod Podge, which we used for decoupage. This project was funded by several individuals and Dick Blick. Our third request has just been submitted.

Art Room Aid Project 1  - African Masks

Art Room Aid Project 2 - Sugar Skull by Xavier

Art Room Aid Project 2 - Sugar Skull by Noah

What art teacher can’t use some extra supplies?

-Suzanne Dionne

Monday 02.10.14

Public Art: Promoting Student Artwork

For years, our school received invitations for two kindergarten students to make ornaments for the Governor’s Christmas tree. When that activity ceased, I contacted our Mayor, who was interested in our students creating ornaments and decorating the three evergreen trees at City Hall and the Chase Building. The first year, first and second grade students created hundreds of ceramic ornaments. Considering the vast religious beliefs of our school population, the themes of the trees were; the winter tree (snowflakes); the mosaic tree (in honor of the downtown mosaic Cool Waters); and the patriotic tree (red, white and blue stars).Twenty-five students were selected to go on a field trip to decorate the trees. The staff at City Hall was wonderful with the students. They were given refreshments and a tour of the upstairs at City Hall. The Mayor, who could not be there to greet the students, made a special trip to the school to give students certificates.

This past year, we made ornaments for two of the trees:  decoupage ornaments with holiday or seasonal designs and a snowman tree.  The winter/snowflake tree was absolutely gorgeous, from the prior year, and was used one more time. Once again, the staff treated the students to treats and a tour. Not only did the Mayor greet the students, but came to school to thank them with a pizza party. While present, he spoke to the students and reminded them to be kind to the elderly and help keep our city clean by picking up trash and not littering.  He told the students if they did this, he would be back in the spring to treat them to ice-cream.

The Patriotic Tree 2012

The Winter Tree 2012

The Mosaic Tree 2012

The Decoupage Tree 2013

This has been a wonderful opportunity for the students to exhibit their artwork, to meet and speak with our Mayor and his staff, and to understand and appreciate that there is much more to “art” than just “something that they make” in the art room.

Photo 1
2013 Student Group Shot with Mayor O’Leary

Nicholas decorating the Snowman Tree 2013

-Suzanne Dionne

Thursday 02. 6.14

Magnificent Mosaics

Our students have had the unique privilege of working with two amazing artists, Joanne and Bruce Hunter, of The Art Spot located in Brookfield, CT, on three beautiful mosaics displayed throughout our school. It is what I consider a significant artistic opportunity for students, as I recall my menial, summer camp creation of the simple tile “ashtray”. Laugh!

“COOL WATERS”… If you ever visit 900 South Main Street in Waterbury, CT, you will see the city’s largest community mosaic-900 square feet. Fifty-eight of our students from second to fifth grade were among the 1,200 volunteers of all ages that helped to create this stunning artwork based upon Bruce Hunter’s design symbolizing the revitalization of the Naugatuck River, which flows through the city. Students matched and laid out porcelain tiles to color coded boards. They learned to use tile cutters to cut tiles to size. Others worked with trowels and cement. What an experience and accomplishment for all! For years to come, to be able to walk, or drive by, and say, “I helped create that!”

As teachers, you know that sometimes the most rewarding part of these projects is reading students’ assessments on their experience…

If you work hard at it, concentrate and follow directions you can make a masterpiece!” Krymzen, grade 5

I feel very happy and excited to be working on a community art project, because it is very hard to earn a chance like that and that kind of chance is uncommon.” Cindy, grade 2

When I was working on the mosaic, I felt like a team player.” Kayla, grade 3

Mosaic in Cafeteria: Eating Smart Gives You a Good Start

Detail of Mosaic in Cafeteria: Eating Smart Gives You a Good Start

Mosaic in Foyer: It starts With the Arts (our school motto)

Mosaic in Front Hall: (our school logo)

Cool Waters Mosaic unveiled on June 26, 2012

Close Up: Cool Waters

Working with gold tiles was a favorite: (Left to right)) Kayla and Jaden  

-Suzanne Dionne

Saturday 02. 1.14

Shadow Puppet Theater

One of the most “out of the box” teaching experiences that I have participated in is creating Shadow Puppet Theater performances.  I became very interested in this integrated approach to learning after attending a workshop at the 2012 NAEA National Convention in New York.


I started researching by purchasing books, searching online and watching videos. My husband and I built a framed screen. The first class took place during our 2012 Summer School Enrichment Program. Four classes each performed The Four Dragons separately. Last year, I worked with kindergarten teachers on Strega Nona, Zomo the Rabbit, Anansi the Spider, Tikki Tikki Tembo, and Jamie O’Rourke and the Giant Potato.

Links to SchoolTube:
Welcome to the Making of Our 2013 Shadow Puppet Theater Performances
Jamie O’Rourke and the Giant Potato
Anansi the Spider
Tikki Tikki Tembo
Strega Nona
Zomo the Rabbit
The Making of the Four Dragons
The Four Dragons
Activities after Four Dragons Shadow Puppet Theater

Presently, I am working with second grade students on a shadow puppet theater performance on Debra Frasier’s book On the Day You were Born. Debra had left a comment on my blog about the shadow puppet performances and we have set a tentative date for her to visit our school. This performance will be in honor of her visit. It will later appear on


If you would like more information on the many benefits of using Shadow Puppet Theater for integrating art and other subject areas, I wrote an article Learning the 4C’s With Shadow Puppet Theater on the

I will also be presenting Learning the 4C’s Through Shadow Puppet Theater at the NAEA National Convention in March 2014.

Students really enjoy Shadow Puppet Theater. It truly is a great learning tool. It’s something unique. It’s fun for the teacher(s) too!

-Suzanne Dionne