Nandua Middle School Teacher Is Virginia Art Educator of the Year

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Nandua Middle School art teacher Sarah Clark, the Virginia Art Education Association’s Middle School Art Educator of the Year for 2020, pauses in her classroom by a painting she’s been working on. Photo by Stefanie Jackson.

By Stefanie Jackson – Nandua Middle School art teacher Sarah Clark is the first person from Accomack to be recognized as a Virginia Art Education Association teacher of the year.

“It puts Accomack County on the map for art education,” Clark said of the award.

She is now eligible to win a National Art Education Association award, representing the southeastern region.

Clark winning the state title of Middle School Art Educator of the Year, 2020, took a rigorous process that began with her nomination. She was required to submit a portfolio of her teaching experiences, professional honors and leadership roles, and work developing art programs, publications, and exhibitions.

She also had to submit two letters of recommendation, which were written by her principal, John Killmon, and family and consumer science teacher Jennifer Kidwell.

They highlighted many of her professional and personal accomplishments, including her emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) that has resulted in classroom creations such as ceiling-to-floor mobiles and projects with moving parts and 3D perspectives.

Clark also coordinated with the director of the Virginia Coastal Reserve research center to develop lessons on hyperspectral imagery, which ecologists are using to study above-ground biomass on Virginia’s barrier islands. Her students’ work was displayed at the NMS art show and will be featured at the Oyster research center at a later date.

Other creations resulting from Clark’s art lessons have included website designs, fashion shows, animal spirit masks made of papier-mache, pottery, and a rock garden featuring a rock painted by Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, who visited the class last spring.

Clark is the Accomack County Public Schools division mentor for art teachers.

She conceived and organized Nandua Middle School’s annual student showcase, featuring displays from every school club and an art show and art auction. School art show and concert attendance in 2020 doubled from the previous year.

Clark’s leadership extends beyond her role as an art teacher. She has been a National Junior Beta Club sponsor and mentor since 2009, helping elementary and middle school Beta Club members prepare for state competitions.

She is a presenter at Accomack schools’ annual technology summit, a professional development event for teachers to learn to incorporate technology into their curriculums.

Clark also shares her passion for art with the greater community.

She is the performing arts teacher for the Onley Baptist Church children’s ministry, Kidz Alive, every Sunday night. She teaches kids in pre-K to eighth grade sign language, interpretive dance, puppeteering, and arts and crafts.

She also works two Saturdays a month at the Red Queen Gallery in Onancock, where she has sold her art since 2014. She was featured in the gallery’s Three Generations art show with her father and two-year-old daughter in 2019.

Clark has arranged for the gallery to host several of her students and invited Red Queen Gallery artists to teach guest lessons in her classroom.

She doesn’t know who nominated her for the VAEA award but suspects it may have been a professor who taught her at James Madison University.

Clark was a full-time art assistant at JMU and joined the VAEA in 2011 when she was still an undergraduate.

Her first teaching position was at Pungoteague Elementary School, where she taught art for four years. Clark then took a one-year leave of absence to pursue her graduate degree.

After earning her graduate degree, an art teaching position became available at Nandua Middle School, which she has held for the last seven years.

Clark will be recognized for her achievement during the VAEA annual conference in November, which will be held virtually this year.

She is excited to receive the award as it “validates my passion as a teacher and an artist.”