By Maureen Smith
MADISON – Amanda Cashman, the art teacher at St. Anthony School, was recognized this fall with the 2015 Bill Poirier Mississippi Outstanding Art Educator of the Year given by the Mississippi Art Education Association (MAEA). The Vicksburg native and fifth-generation graduate of St. Aloysius, was named the art teacher when St. Anthony opened its doors in 2009, but her path to the position took a few turns along the way.
“I didn’t do any education as an undergraduate. I figured I would probably work in a museum or a boutique or gallery,” she said. She decided to investigate teaching after she graduated. That’s when things started falling into place. “When I moved back to Vicksburg my own art teachers from St. Aloysius, Lisa Grant, called me at Christmastime,” said Cashman. Grant was going to take a leave of absence and invited Cashman to fill in for a semester. “Two weeks into it, I said, ‘alright, message received God, this is where I am supposed to be,’” explained Cashman.
In addition to her time at Vicksburg Catholic, she spent time as an art educator at the Mississippi Museum of Art.
St. Anthony is a WHOLE School, which uses a program offered by the Mississippi Arts Commission to integrate arts throughout a school’s entire curriculum. Cashman said this allows her to work collaboratively with the teachers in all the grades. “The third grade is learning about Civil Rights and the unit starts with the Civil War and Underground Railroad. I said, ‘A-ha, I can do quilt blocks and quilt patterns with them.’ The patterns and things we learned about in art were the ones they used as codes on the railroad,” explained Cashman.
The day a visitor was in the classroom, the second grade was doing a unit on ocean environments. Cashman gave them a lesson on using basic shapes such as ovals and rectangles to create more complicated pictures as a way to help them illustrate the creatures in the ocean. Each student has a creature he or she is researching so they had to apply the art lesson to what they knew about their fish, shark or deep-sea dweller.
The teachers and administrators appreciate her contributions “Amanda Cashman is an invaluable resource for me as a classroom teacher. Her knowledge of art history and art styles greatly helps me to tie my curriculum to art objectives,” said Megan Leake, sixth grade Language Arts teacher.
“Art is not just visual art – that’s my chunk of it, but here (as a WHOLE school) we teach through movement and dance. We teach through music and song and there are all different art forms that can really come together to strengthen the learning,” said Cashman. Her goal is to expose the students to as many forms of art as she can.
“I think in exposing them to as many different types of art and artists and art materials that everybody can find something they like or that inspires them. I realize that every thing is not for everybody but I think if you have so much choice to look at you can find something that speaks to you,” she said.
“I have only known Amanda for a short time, but it was clear to me when I first met her that she is an excellent educator, and a very loving and caring teacher and faculty member. She is connected to everything about our school and is a wonderful role model for our students and our teachers. She is a very valued member of our school family,” said St. Anthony principal James Bell.
The Poirier award is the highest given by MAEA. Cashman said she was honored to receive it, but added that she gets much more out of the organization. She calls the members her ‘tribe,’ saying that they support one another with ideas and resources. She credits the organization with helping her become a better teacher every year.
By Maureen Smith