Young artists are learning more than painting, drawing and sculpting at Pine Bluff High School in Arkansas. Last year, art teacher Shalisha Thomas partnered with the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas to display a collection of student work that rivaled exhibits in big cities like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Thomas worked tirelessly with her pupils to make sure the works on display were of the highest quality. Students discussed their work and shared their inspirations in a gallery walk and presentation based on what those professional artists do at their exhibits. Thomas’ students will always remember the pride and positive self-esteem they felt as peers, families and community viewed their art.
Thomas, who teaches grades 10-12, sees art not as just an elective class, but as an opportunity for self-expression and exploration. Her project-based, interactive and highly visual instruction captures students’ imagination, enabling them to achieve more than they ever thought possible. Thomas works with her colleagues in math, ELA and other core subjects to align her lesson plans to academic standards and objectives. Angles and lines are incorporated into drawing to reinforce math concepts. Students enhance their “descriptive voice” through presenting and detailing their work and techniques, which furthers their application of English and Writing standards. Thomas holds high expectations for all her students in both art and academics and regularly assesses performance. A fixture of positive energy and optimism, Thomas works with students in small groups during lunch and loves engaging teens in the hallway between classes.
Thomas is seen as a positive role model who articulates career path possibilities, especially for Pine Bluff’s young women of color. In addition to sponsoring the Art Club, she participates on building leadership teams and coordinates the homecoming and prom committees. A skilled relationship-builder, Thomas goes above and beyond for her students, their families and the Pine Bluff community.
Thomas earned a Bachelor of Science in art education in 2012 from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Press release: Pine Bluff Art Teacher Shalisha Thomas Receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Arkansas
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