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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Wednesday 05.29.19

When Life Redirects Your Focus

By Frank Juarez

IMG_20190506_073720Painting by Elena Butzen, AP Studio Art

In less than two weeks the 2018-2019 school year will come to a close. It will mark my 18th year

teaching high school art. For many of us our days inside the classroom ebbs and flows day by day or hour by hour. Every year brings new challenges, intervention strategies, district initiatives, meetings and so on. Juggling our responsibilities and commitments can seem endless. It can get a bit stressful. Sometimes we may think to ourselves, will this day ever end?

I found myself organizing my flat file cabinet when I happened to come across a letter that I received from a former art student’s mother written in 2009. I cannot believe that I have been holding onto that letter a decade later. I am glad I did. It is a reminder that we do make a difference in the lives of our students and parents even it if feels like somedays we are not appreciated for what we do. This letter reaffirms that I made the best decision in my life - to work alongside my students guiding them into a path of personal success.

Here is the letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

I have never been an enthusiast or even passive supporter of art classes in schools. In fact, I might have been inclined to believe in times of tough decisions, these classes could easily be cut from academic budgets. When my son took art as a freshman, I was ok with it if it did not interfere with my son’s “more important” courses. The following three years, Ian chose to continue art. Currently, he will be enrolling at Platteville College in the School of Engineering.

I first began changing my attitude towards art when I went to parent-teacher conferences freshman year for Ian. I was surprised after talking to all of my son’s teachers, that his art teacher had the best understanding of Ian’s learning needs. As I followed my son’s progress through school, I began to appreciate the depth his academic and personal development that was being cultivated through the arts. It expanded his viewpoints, sharpened Ian’s ability to view things in a different way and bring together all aspects of his learning. While my husband and I could help my son in his understanding of science, history, literature, and math…we did not have the ability to offer him this widened concept of viewing things. This learning experience only was available to him due to his art program offered at your public school.

I believe my son will be a better engineer and individual as a result of the art course he pursued during high school. Somehow and in some way, I don’t fully comprehend, these courses taught him more than shading and color choice. It would be tragic not to provide these opportunities to other students who desired to pursue them.  – a parent

Thank you for reading my posts for the month of May.

Enjoy the summer!




Wednesday 05.22.19

The Story Behind the Sheboygan North’s Artist-in-Residency Program

By Frank Juarez

IMG_20190507_101338220Poetry students working with artist-in-residence, Craig Grabhorn

In the Fall of 2014, the Sheboygan North High Art Department launched its artist-in-residency program. Earlier that year two of my students wanted to create a splatter paint fashion show. As the models walked down the runway in white clothing, they were splattered with paint resulting in one-of-a-kind clothing. One they reach the end of the runway they posed confidently and walked back. When my students mentioned their idea, I knew exactly what to do to make this experience meaningful. I invited Project Runway Season 12 fashion designer, Miranda Kay Levy to view and provide constructive criticism to the students afterwards. Talk about excitement!

We invited students, staff, and administration to attend the event. I introduce Miranda to my former principal, Mr. Bull. He wanted to know Miranda’s story in the fashion world. One of the things that caught his attention was the artist-in-residency program she was participating in at Bay View High School in Milwaukee. Turns out my former principal taught Math there. He liked what he heard and how that program provided students more authentic opportunities and experiences.

The following day Mr. Bull approached me with the idea of ‘what if’ we started an artist-in-resident at Sheboygan North High. Without hesitation, I said yes. I knew the person in charge of this program at Bay View. We spoke on the phone and I listed what his program offered and what we can do at my school to fit our needs. One of the things I wanted to address, first and foremost, is paying the artists an honorarium. Mr. Bull and I met with our district’s secondary education coordinator, pitched this idea and how much it would cost to run. He liked what he heard. We were granted funding for our first year.

I knew that I wanted this program to become interdisciplinary. My vision was to bring artists who value education, love working with students, and were open to brainstorm on creative ideas with our staff and students to enhance their learning. I was able to secure a designated classroom as the artist’s studio. Afterall, one of the things artists need to create their work is space.

The goals of the Sheboygan North High Artist-in-Residence (AiR) Program are to expand the experience of each student in the field of the arts, foster creativity, enrich education in any given subject, and to present staff members with new ideas and options for instruction.

At the end of the artist’s residency we organize a solo exhibition at our NHS ARTifacts Gallery. During the reception, the artist is encouraged to speak about his/her work and have a Q & A with the audience. One of the neatest things I experience since its beginning was listening to my colleague’s poetry club. Her students wrote response pieces based on works of art, which they read to the audience. This was a prime example of how art enriches our lives.

The biggest obstacle thus far has been implementing this program into other classrooms. We do have our regulars that take advantage of such a great opportunity. Our students learn more about how they see the world through their own art. We are grateful to have been funded by a grant from the Sheboygan Area School District, Wisconsin Art Education Association, and the Kohler Foundation, Inc.

We have reached a milestone in our program. To date we have hosted 10 artists from the local art community. Each brought something special to our staff and students. They worked with teachers from World Language, Social Studies, Culinary Art, English, Humanities, Art, and Science.

We continue to seek more funding to sustain our program. However, that will be tomorrow’s worry. For now, we celebrate the impact it has brought to our school’s culture this school year.

FullSizeR_02Artist-in-residence, Craig Grabhorn, talking about his work to Social Studies students.

IMG_20190321_113658435Student working on his Work Projects Administration (WPA) poster

IMG_20190319_111527357Detail of Work Projects Administration (WPA) posters

611DA77D-861B-4E56-BF91-B95CD9A561E6Artist-in-residence, Craig Grabhorn

IMG_6328Inside the artist-in-residence studio with Craig Grabhorn

IMG_6327Inside the artist-in-residence studio with Craig Grabhorn

IMG_6326Inside the artist-in-residence studio with Craig Grabhorn

To learn about Sheboygan North High’s Artist-in-residence click here.


Thursday 05.16.19

Connecting the Art World With Art Education

By Frank Juarez

IMG_6028Presenting at the Kinnektor Conference at Lambeu Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin

For many of us, art has been a part of our upbringing. My first memory of making art was in grade school. I vividly remember competing against my best friend to see who was the better artist. I brought my signature Scooby-Doo to the table and he would draw his ninja. After the drawings, the other students would clap to determine the winner. The year was 1984. I was 9 years old.

In 2005, my life centered around art and art education. I was teaching high school art and creating my own artwork. I was content, but not fully happy. I knew there was more to art than teaching and creating so I started to move out of my comfort zone to find these experiences. I was very curious. I was driven.

During that time, I was already involved in a local art group called The Milwaukee Area Teachers of Art (MATA). It was a great source for art, art education, veteran art teachers and practicing artists. This is when I began to connect the dots with art and art education. I was learning first hand on how important it is to be involved outside of the classroom and bringing what I am learning into my teaching practice. Things that I have learned were how to advocate for art education, promote my art and program, search for exhibition opportunities, sell my art, and find ways to collaborate on projects.

I embraced these experiences and have been implementing them into my teaching practice ever since. It has opened many doors to a sea of opportunities and expanded the way I think.

I believe that the world of art is a 360-degree experience. Every aspect of being an art teacher, an artist, a gallery owner, a published author, and/or an arts advocate can benefit your students and their education. It guides you to determine which experiences you want to bring into your classroom. It allows your students to see the possibilities of finding their own voice.

Here is a list of suggestions to get involved:

  • State art organization
  • Local art group
  • Local art organization
  • Art center
  • Galleries
  • Institutions
  • SchoolArts Magazine

F7B57412-2986-4FC2-A495-87638B6EC131-20667-000016C0DF820A1DLooking at the work of Milwaukee-based artist, John Kowalczyk

JUA_2618Viewing “Untitled” by Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Seattle Art Museum

JUA_5411Photo taken in the East Market District, Louisville, Kentucky

IMG_1330Studio visit with Madison-based artist, Trent Miller


Tuesday 05. 7.19

Developing Your Own Unique Art Program

By Frank Juarez

IMG_8130Logo designed by Sally Carson

This topic is dear to my heart. It is what guides our art program at Sheboygan North High School to be the best possible art program for our students. Our arts programming makes us unique compared to other local art programs. We offer innovative lessons for 9-12 grade focused on contemporary artists living and working in the Midwest, an artist lecture series via Skype, a National Art Honor Society chapter, and an artist-in-residence program.

When I started teaching secondary art in the Sheboygan Area School District 18 years ago, I was in survival mode like many beginning art teachers. I had my first art room at Riverview Alterative Programs (today it is called Central High), my first group of aspiring artists, and my first real life experience of explaining to others why art is important in the lives of our youth.

I remember after my first year I sat down and started to reflect on the year’s experiences, successes, and failures. I asked myself, “If was to do this year differently, what would I change and keep”? The one thing that was on my mind was people’s misconceptions about art and art education. How can I address this in an educational way?

After five years of teaching at-risk students I transferred to Sheboygan North High School. I discovered that it does not matter where you teach, Art was always vulnerable topic. So, I made a promise to myself that when I became art department chair, there would be things I would like to change such as transforming our vulnerability into a pillar of strength, to become an integral part of our school’s culture, to make my art room a place where my students could express themselves, believe in their ideas, and develop self-confidence.

One of the best approaches that I see as life-changing is integrating advocacy with the business side of art education. If you take a close look at how a business operates, you will notice that we experience similar objectives in art education. For example, who is our audience? What makes us stand out compared to another art program? In what way can we attract new students?  How can we retain current students? What successes have our alumni accomplished?

I learned early in my career that it is important to promote your art program. If you do not, then who will? How this looks like will vary from art teacher to art teacher. I have been fortunate to have gained some experiences in seeing how advocacy and promotion looks like from an arts organization and gallery’s perspective. But, what does it look like for art education? For my own art room?. For starters, advocacy is different than promoting. Advocacy is a deeper understanding on how art education can impact, enrich, and empower the well-being of a child; intellectually, emotionally, physically and mentally. Promoting is the mode of delivery for such advocacy related item. I understand as art educators we want to teach and not have to think about the business side. I truly believe one cannot exist without the other.

We continue to push our art program forward, embrace our (art) community, and collaborate more than ever.

IMG_8667Here is my go-to-list for how we continue to move our art program forward. To this day, they continue to challenge us on how we think about our future.

Action: a strategy or strategies used to communicate with others. Which strategies do you use in your teaching practice to promote yourself, your students’ work, and your program?

Establish a Presence: Content is king. What do you do once you have your content ready for sharing.

Carry Forward: In what ways do you reach your audience? Who is your audience? What content do you share? Is it repetitive information? What can you do to make your information ‘fresh’.

Nurture Relationships: How often do you communicate with your audience? What exactly do you communicate? Do you cater your audience with specific content? Besides the use of technology what else do you utilize?

Maintain Visibility: What differentiates your art program from another one? How do you keep your audience informed? In what ways do you engage your audience? How often do you communicate? What time of day?

Evaluation: When it is all said and done what do you do to put closure to an exhibit? Event? Art unit?

Creating a pathway to success has opened doors to other professional opportunities for us and our students. It has strengthened our voice as an integral part of Sheboygan North High School and community. It has taken over a decade to reach this point in our art program’s success. Patience, persistence, and innovative thinking are key.

What do you do to promote your art program? Feel free to send me an email at



IMG_7866Kaitlyn Becker, National Art Honor Society President reading at MEAD Library’s Storytime.

IMG_7649Sheboygan Area School District High School Art Exhibition at EBBO ArtWorks in Sheboygan.

IMG_7837Designing a coloring book for EXPO at Sheboygan North High School.

IMG_7995Craig Grabhorn, artist-in-residence, at Sheboygan North High School.

APC_0101Art students working with staff from the John Michael Kohler Arts Center on an upcoming exhibition for the EX AiR Program.

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Friday 05. 3.19

Beautifying Our Environment Through the Art of Muraling

By Frank Juarez

The oldest mural I found at Sheboygan North High School was painted by Mary Burns, class of 1974. The mural has a black and white cartoonish face with ribbon-like swirls of color stemming from it. To some it exemplifies creativity, but to others it comes off as questionable art. What does it mean, one may think?

Murals can have a negative vibe with those that do not understand them or what they are communicating to the public. I often think that our personal experiences outside of school can affect our way of looking at murals within our own schools. Painted exterior or interior walls with imagery and text can sometimes be misinterpreted as vandalism. This is where education is key in introducing to the public different types of art, its meaning, relevancy, and what it can contribute to a school’s culture. The art of muraling is another form of self-expression, creative risk-taking, artistic voice, and critical thinking. It is about beautifying our environment.

How we approach the art of muraling at our school makes a difference on how others view it. It is centered around creativity, originality, collaboration, presentation, and professionalism. One way of achieving this is by designing our murals to be aesthetically pleasing, meaningful, and supported by our curriculum with the same intensity as one of our art units.

As you walk throughout our school, you will see that most hallways and stairwells have a splash of color reflecting students’ artistic vision and pride. Each delivering something special with a unique style and an interesting way of looking at life through the eyes of a teenager.

North_High_75th_muralCelebrating 75 years of Sheboygan North High School. Mural design by Sheboygan-based muralist, Dale Knaak. Painted by art students.

Since 2006, every mural that was painted in our halls went through a proposal format addressing the intent of the proposed artwork, materials list, district and/or National Visual Arts Standards, timeline, presentation, audience, and evaluation. In addition, students were held accountable for the mural progress and commitment.

There are over 30 murals in our building. A few have been painted, over the years. Some photographed, framed, and installed to preserve our history. Many still grace the walls of Sheboygan North High School.

“I find these murals interesting to look at trying to piece together a timeline of our past. At the end of the day, the art that is proudly displayed on our walls were created by our students. What I have observed over the years is that appreciating and understanding art comes from our daily interactions with these works of art”. – Frank Juarez

The Process

Student artist: Hannah Thorpe, class of 2018

Hannah_Thorpe_mural_2 Preliminary sketches

Hannah_Thorpe_mural_2Color mixing


Hannah_Thorpe_mural_4Mural in progress

IMG_8787 copyMural leading to the art department by Hannah Thorpe

Other Murals

Mural by Julia Ammons, class of 2018

Be_the_next_generation“Be the Next Generation” Mural by the National Art Honor Society Students




Wednesday 05. 1.19

Social Networking Via Skype

By Frank Juarez

ISkyping_with_Joe_Busselln 2014, my principal shared his building initiative of increasing Literacy across all content areas. I assumed that this would entail more writing and reading, but soon discovered that it encompassed so much more. The first thing we do, as educators, is brainstorm on what this may look like in our classroom with our students. The second thing we do is to begin looking for resources, usually free ones. The third thing we may do is look for online articles that we can use. Lastly, if we cannot find something free, then we either start looking for grants, our operating budget, our PTO, etc. to fund this type of resource.

Early in my career, I have learned that if I want to implement something into my curriculum, then I need to cater it to my students. It is important to use a resource that will engage them in the learning process, to put them into a situation where they would need to utilize the knowledge they have learned thus far in real-life scenarios, to effectively navigate the web to seek specific information, and to make inferences based on information presented. This resulted in creating The Midwest Artist Studios Project (2014-2016), which combines art education and contemporary art.

The Midwest Artist Studios™ Project was a three-summer field research project. The team consisted of a project manager, photographer, writer, and assistant whom traveled the Midwest visiting contemporary artists who:  a) embrace the importance of Art Education, b) believe that their art experience was influenced or shaped by their K-12 Art Education and c) following their artistic dream of art making. These visits provided a close and personal approach into the studio life of an artist. The team traveled over 5,800 miles visiting 24 artists from 18 different cities/town across the Midwest.

What I truly enjoyed about this experience is that I was able to create a platform in which I made the art world a 360-degree experience. Often times that art world can be one-sided, meaning that if someone sees a work of art in a museum or gallery, he/she may not have the access to contact the artist. Even though we are resourceful such as googling the artist and sending the artist an email via their contact form, there is no guarantee that we may get a response. If the goal of this project is to address Literacy within my curriculum, then one of my goals is to give my students access to the artists whom we visited and studied. One way of achieving this was to incorporate Skype into the art experience. This allowed me to facilitate a lesson designed after the artist’s work and studio practice, sprinkled with varied strategies for Literacy, and topped off with the opportunity to bring these artists into the classroom via Skype for a Q & A, critique, business of art practices, or simply a conversation about being an artist living in the Midwest.

Through this practice, I began to network with other artists across the U.S. to introduce to my students the diversity that exists within our own art world and art community. For example, I had a student working in collage about three years ago. Her work reminded me of a collage artist from Brooklyn named Jay Riggio. So, I contacted the artist, explained why I was contacting him, and asked if he would be willing to spend 20 minutes with my student via Skype. Without hesitation, he said yes. Through this type of interaction one cannot get from reading a book or surfing the net. This was an authentic art experience that made an impact on this student’s creative life.

It seems that money is always on the forefront of what we can or cannot do. I have learned a long time that giving up does not produce results. We are creative thinkers! With a plethora of available resources and platforms, let’s continue to think outside the box, and make things happen for our students.