Advocating for Art Education

Posted by: Mellany Artmstrong

After graduating from Moore’s Master of Arts program, Samantha Davis ’16 walked into her first interview and landed an art teaching position – on the spot!

Davis, a 2016 graduate of the MA in Art Education with an emphasis in Special Populationsprogram, interviewed at Coney Island Prep High School (CIPHS) following her recent move to New York City. Impressed by her experience, thesis work, and self-developed curriculum, founder Jacob Mnookin hired Davis right then and there.

“I screamed and cried and was so excited,” Davis said. “My experience at Moore provided me a clear vision of what kind of teacher I am, and that authenticity, I think, showed through in my interview. I also talked about teaching a large special needs population, which they were excited that I had experience with.”

Davis is now teaching juniors and seniors at the growing high school, where she plays an integral part of the CIPHS community.

“I try to insert myself in all academic areas, offer solutions, and support special needs students,” she said.

In her art courses, Davis instructs students with and without learning disabilities, those with emotional and behavioral disorders, as well as students along the autism spectrum. She uses her own curriculum, which incorporates all of Olivia Gude’s eight postmodern principles.

“My curriculum is inclusive,” Davis said. “I use modifications and accommodations for all students to reach optimal learning potential.”

Davis creates strategies for teaching students with diverse learning styles – visual, oral, etc. Thus, all students can complete the same projects, but have different outcomes.

“Every student has an opportunity for creative success,” Davis said. “It’s the same objective for every person, however, the artistic process allows for their own individual creativity so that the product is individualized.”

Art projects include abstract still-life painting, storyboarding, and figure painting, to name a few. Davis’ favorite project was creating ‘representin’ portraits’ – an art-making process from Gude’s principles.

“Students created portraits of people they identify with racially,” Davis explained. “We chose people who are positive role models and talked about how we want to portray them in our artwork.”

Davis also works with the special education team in creating diverse learning opportunities for special needs students across other disciplines – a position that is rare for art educators to be a part of. This can allow alternative ways to teach any subject with a bit of art in it.

With her unique skill set, Davis feels she serves a place at CIPHS and is advocating to include art education as a core class.

“I’ve seen the wealth of knowledge and experience I have through professional experience and my master’s, and they take full advantage of that,” Davis said.

She’s helped create professional development opportunities for teachers and has been asked to support students with emotional and behavioral disorders.

“I tutor, mentor, and track their progress.” Davis explained. “I allow students a safe space to calm down and focus in the classroom.”

Davis acts as a consistent presence in the students’ academic day. “It’s a role that I play in the classroom where I’m authentic, consistent and the emphasis is not on me,” she said. “Students get the same Ms. Davis every day.”

Davis has also found ways to build her own culture within the two-year-old art program.

“Displaying artwork has created a visual culture and the students’ pride has swelled,” she said.

Davis’ goal is to help students build a strong portfolio so that they can go to art school. She aims to create an art program that is going to be supportive and prepare students for a foundation course.

As Davis continues her journey post-master’s, she credits Moore and Graduate Program Director Lauren Stichter for her experiences.

“I was looking to have something different on my resume and felt Moore would make a good asset,” she said. “The graduate program was best suited for me as a working teacher and I was also looking for something in special populations.”

“Lauren paid close attention to one’s success not only as alumni, but as educators and people,” Davis added. “She wanted it to be a general learning experience – this is the case for the entire staff – but for the graduate program, Lauren’s oversight was encouraging and positive. She supports not only the individual needs, but the individual talents of each of the graduate students.”

When she’s not busy teaching, Davis likes to create her own art, read, and explore New York City, among other things. She believes the profession requires a lot of self-care, so she engages in a number of non-educational practices in her spare time. “You’re constantly filling up someone else’s cup as a teacher, so I spend my personal time filling up my own cup,” she said.

See information about Samantha’s thesis here.