Meridian Star

Local News

July 17, 2013

Meridian area arts educators honored at 2013 Arts Education Awards

MERIDIAN —     Four Meridian area arts educators will be honored for their work in making a difference in arts education in Mississippi schools, communities and the world around them at a special ceremony today during the Mississippi Arts Commission's Whole Schools Institute.

     Linda Guise of Oakland Heights Elementary School, Holly Triplett of Poplar Springs Elementary School, Suzanne McKee-Waddell of MSU Meridian, and LaVonda Germany of Poplar Springs Elementary School will be among honorees from across the state recognized at the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education Awards Ceremony, which will be held at noon at MSU Riley Center.

    “The annual MAAE Arts Education Awards are a celebration of excellence to honor fellow Mississippians who are passionate about providing our students with arts education,” says Penny Wallin, executive director of the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education (MAAE). “It is a proven fact that integrating arts into curriculum in one form or another is not only essential to a child’s education, but necessary for their success.”

    Established in 1974, the mission of the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education is to advocate for high quality, comprehensive and sequential arts education for all Mississippi students.

    "The Meridian Public School District is a big advocate of the arts, and we firmly believe that arts integration into curriculum is good for our students and our district," said Meridian Public School District Superintendent Dr. Alvin Taylor.

    "We want to thank the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education for recognizing our administrators and teachers, and we appreciate their support," Taylor said.

     The 2013 MAAE Arts Education Award categories and recipients are:

    • Thad Cochran Distinguished Arts Educator – Music

    Linda Guise, Oakland Heights Elementary School, Meridian

    Linda Guise, music teacher at Oakland Heights Elementary School in Meridian, has been named Teacher of the Year and has served as district chairperson for high school choirs and arts coordinator and project coordinator for Whole Schools at Oakland Heights.

    According to her nomination packet, “Linda totally gets arts integration. Her dedication to music and her enthusiasm for the arts in every child’s life is what distinguishes her from others. We are so lucky to have her in Mississippi, where students can benefit from her love and expertise.”

    • Thad Cochran Distinguished Arts Educator— Music

    Travis Coakley, Biloxi High School, Biloxi

    Biloxi High School’s Director of Bands, Travis Coakley, teaches both the superior-rated marching band and the symphonic band. Mr. Coakley led the band as they participated in the 2012 Thanksgiving Parade in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

    Biloxi High School Principal Pamela Manners, wrote: “Mr. Coakley embraces a variety of teaching strategies designed to help students experience band as an active and important part of the school, the community, and their lives. His dedication to his students and to the teaching profession is exemplified on a daily basis by his careful planning, astute instruction, and strong leadership.”

    • Thad Cochran Distinguished Arts Educator— Arts Integration

    Caroline Knight, Ocean Springs School District, Gautier

    Caroline Knight from the Ocean Springs School District, has been teaching for 22 exciting years from 1st to 4th grade and in gifted education, during which time she has taught through and with the arts. She believes it is like breathing and there is no other way to ignite the passion for learning in children.

    One of her students wrote, “Mrs. Knight taught us to think about everything. She is like a cold ice cream on a hot day…a bright light in a dark alley, the cheese on my macaroni, the salt on my fries, the sunshine on a rainy recess day!”

    • Thad Cochran Distinguished Arts Educator— Arts Integration

    Holly Triplett, Poplar Springs Elementary School, Meridian

    Holly Triplett, from Poplar Springs Elementary School in Meridian, is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher.

    Her nomination packet stated, “It is difficult to determine if Holly is an artist first or a teacher first because she covers Common Core Standards for English/Language arts and math, as well as science, social studies and the arts. In everything she does, Holly imparts a love of learning through the arts!”

    • Outstanding Administrator of the Year

    LaVonda Germany, Poplar Springs Elementary School, Meridian

    Principal LaVonda Germany of Poplar Springs Elementary School was named the Meridian Public School 2013 Administrator of the Year and selected to represent the Third Congressional District as their Administrator of the Year.

    According to nominator Charlotte Tabereaux, LaVonda Germany “talks the talk of arts integration, and walks the walk. She is so knowledgeable that she was asked to lead a professional development workshop for her district on arts integration. Her willingness to allow other schools, both locally and around the state to visit Poplar Springs, is one reason the Whole Schools Network is growing in Mississippi!”

    • School of Excellence Award

    St. Anthony Catholic School, Madison

    School of Excellence Award winner St. Anthony Catholic School in Madison lives by the motto “imagination is the beginning of creation.” From the school’s inception in 2008, St. Anthony has embraced the practice of arts integration into everyday instruction. Always expanding and growing St. Anthony reaches out into the community through the arts from the Mayor of Madison to veterans and members of the local retirement home. Coupled with summer camp opportunities and Via Creativa events, St. Anthony has a strong commitment to educating the whole child.

    • Distinguished Community Arts Agency

    Suzanne McKee-Waddell, Wayne County School District, Waynesboro

    The Distinguished Community Arts Agency Award goes to Dr. Suzanne McKee-Waddell for her longstanding work through the Wayne County School District. For 25 years, Dr. Waddell has been a relationship builder, who enriches, motivates, and inspires children and adults in Wayne County and the state.

     As the facilitator of the academically gifted and talented program at Waynesboro Elementary School, she was the leader and implementer of the visual and performing arts programming in the district. From designing courses to directing productions and events, Dr. Waddell has established a living legacy based on her belief that the arts open the door to understanding. Now as a faculty member of the Division of Education at MSU Meridian, she continues her love of the arts in education as a mentor and messenger in her classes and workshops throughout the state.

    • Excellence in Higher Education Award

    Julie Hammond-White, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg

    Julie Hammond-White, associate professor of dance and director of dance education at the University of Southern Mississippi, was recently awarded the University of Southern Mississippi’s prestigious College of Arts and Letters Teacher of the Year Award for her work in dance education and arts assessment.

    In her application, Julie wrote, “Dance has always been my chief passion in life…and when I discovered teaching, I discovered my calling in life — dance is the way I can make a difference in the world, by empowering others to achieve their greatest potential…so that my students can effectively share the essential benefits and curricular standards of an education in dance.”

    • Exemplary Arts Service Award

    Cynthia Newland, Belhaven University, Jackson

    The Exemplary Arts Service Award honors Cynthia Newland, chair of the dance department at Belhaven University in Jackson. Cynthia is a respected and talented dance professor, additionally as a dance teacher, choreographer, and performer, she actively works with organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ, Children of the World, and Operation Mobilization International. Her work for inclusive dance has produced numerous choreographed works for people with and without disabilities.

    Diane DeFries, executive director of the American College Dance Festival Association, wrote: “Ms. Newland’s presence is calm and quiet, but her ability to envision and then create a safe environment for a charged artistic and intellectual exchange for hundreds of students and faculty belies a woman of strength, conviction, and know how!”

    • Lifetime Achievement Award

    Elthea Harrison, Madison Avenue Lower Elementary School, Madison

    Commitment to the arts is not a passing fancy and Lifetime Achievement in the Arts recipient Elthea Harrison has devoted the past 34 years immersed in arts education. Currently as the music teacher at Madison Avenue Lower Elementary she is a National Board Certified Teacher who never tires of learning new and innovative ways to teach the arts.

    According to her principal, Dr. Brenda Jones, Mrs. Harrison “exhibits a love of teaching, a strong commitment to students and their learning, and shares her knowledge of music with students, fellow teachers, families, and community. She is creative, enthusiastic, and displays a genuine love of children.” Music is definitely the universal language for this outstanding teacher from Australia!

    For more information about the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education or the MAAE Arts Education Awards, please visit:

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