Art Teacher Honored As Best In State
In the words of her boss, Wendy Bryant-Motley “understands that art isn't extra – it's essential.”
“She sees how art isn't an end in itself but also a means to help understand the other concepts students learn about in reading, math, and other subjects,” says Broadway Elementary Principal Ricky Secor. “She is committed to helping her students grow not only in art but also in the community.”
In the words of one colleague, Bryant-Motley's weaving together of art education and community service is a model for anyone interested in making Lee County a better place.
“She embodies what an art educator should be and promotes the arts not only in her school but in her community as well,” said Jody Stouffer, an art instructor at Lee County High School.
Bryant-Motley, who teaches art at Broadway Elementary, shouldn't be unfamiliar to readers of Inspired: she was featured four years ago for her Art Ambassadors program, which brings young artists into assisted living facilities in the community. She was central in 2016 to a multi-school, multi-grade level and multi-media collaborative fashion show in which students designed, created and modeled original clothing. The year before, she was named the district's teacher of the year.
Well, add another accolade to the list. Bryant-Motley was recently named the North Carolina Art Educators Association's statewide teacher of the year.
“It's humbling,” Bryant-Motley said recently. “I have been to our conferences and sat in the workshops and presentations, and so I know we have some phenomenal art educators in this state. It's a true honor.”
Bryant-Motley came to Lee County Schools in 1998 as a recent college graduate. She spent her first five years as an art instructor at Lee County High School before coming to Broadway, where's she's been ever since.
She's become known in the intervening years as someone who understands the value of art in the classroom – particularly its ability to help students in other disciplines (more on that in a bit) – but also in the community at large. In addition to the Art Ambassadors program (which has grown beyond just Bryant-Motley's classes and has been implemented in several district schools) and the fashion show, she's had a hand in the Brick City Bees Initiative, which aims to bring beehives to downtown Sanford. Her students have created clay ornaments to hang on the Christmas tree Downtown Sanford Inc. puts up at Depot Park each year. She helped with “Art in the Alley,” a program at 2017's Downtown Sanford Street Festival. She's formed partnerships with corporate citizens like Coty to help pay for student art supplies. Much of this has come through involvement with the Sanford Leadership Academy.
“If I had to guess (why I received the award) I would say it's because of the relationships I've built in the community and the partnerships that have formed from those relationships,” she said.
Bryant-Motley is set to represent North Carolina later this month at the National Art Educators Association's annual conference in Seattle. The conference will focus on STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts, and math – education, about which Bryant-Motley is passionate. After recently receiving a master's degree, she's taken a particular interest in developing curricula, and not just arts curricula.
“I've just written a curriculum where students have to tell a story using just pictures, and no words,” she explained. “It's an interdisciplinary thing – the walls are down, and you're not just teaching art, or literacy, you're teaching both. It's applicable for all grade levels.”
That kind of cross-curricular learning is another area of interest for Bryant-Motley – she talks about using portraits of presidents to help with history lessons about President's Day, or using models of cakes and pies to help math students learn about fractions – and is an example of how important she believes the arts are to a complete education.
“Look at your phone,” she said. “People communicate through emojis now. They don't always need words. I love encouraging my fellow teachers to find ways to somehow implement visual arts into their discipline.”
For Secor, in his first year as principal at Broadway, having such a teacher on staff is a blessing.
“She thinks up so many ideas and is excited to help bring all of them to reality,” he said. “Broadway is very fortunate to have such a talented art teacher and we are so proud of her for being named the 2018 North Carolina Art Educator. The honor is well-earned.”