Virginia Hicks
Virginia Hicks, Art Educator of the Year (Middle Level)

Two Upshur teachers honored for empowering student success through art

According to a Michigan Art Education Association survey, 72 percent of business leaders said creativity is the number one skill they are seeking when hiring new employees. In fact, that skill was one listed a few weeks ago when business, community and higher education representatives gathered to paint a picture of the ‘Portrait of a B-UHS graduate,’ listing traits such as creativity and those with an education that includes the arts.

In fact, folks do not need to look far in Buckhannon and Upshur County to see what a strong influence the arts have on those living here.

In October when the West Virginia Art Education Association announced its nine award-winning art educators for the state, two of those nine live and lead Upshur County students in art for enjoyment, learning and developing those critical life skills employers and secondary education facilities are seeking for successful employees and students.

Virginia Hicks was named the 2018 Middle Level Art Educator of the Year by the West Virginia Art Education Association. Hicks said she was thrilled to receive the distinction.

“I have been an art teacher for two decades and have worked in Upshur County since 2008,” Hicks said. “My first assignment in Upshur County was at Buckhannon Academy, where I worked for seven years as the sole art teacher.”

Hicks also has taught at Hodgesville and Washington District elementary schools before her current position at B-UMS, where she has worked for four years.

“Previously, I worked for ArtsBank in Randolph County, serving in Homestead, Pickens, Valley Head, George Ward and Jennnings Randolph elementary schools,” she said. “During that time, I also taught six semesters as an adjunct professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, instructing the Methods of Teaching Art classes and Beginning Drawing classes.”

Hicks said she really enjoys working with middle school aged students.

“The neat thing about teaching middle school, as opposed to elementary or high school, is the students are somewhat independent and will want to take their artwork in different directions – but they are still young enough to want to learn from you, follow the basic rules of art and design and take pride in their work,” she said. “They love to try new materials and techniques and usually have the maturity and fine motor skills to handle quite complex assignments.

“They can also be incredibly funny, which makes teaching art both interesting and enjoyable.”

She said that art is a subject where there are rules, but no right or wrong answers.

“It always amazes me how we can start at the same point, with the same goals, but end up with 25 completely different pieces of work,” Hicks said. “Art gives the student a chance to use the other side of their brain. It’s a change from their core subjects, although I always emphasize that art often incorporates math, English, science, and most definitely, social studies. Its just a different way to look at these subjects – a different point of view.

“The arts in school have been proven to boost test scores, self-esteem, graduation rates and lower behavioral issues. Being involved in art and music requires commitment and creative thinking, problem-solving skills and team work — all important traits to the regular classroom environment.”

Hicks was born in Manchester, England and attended both elementary and secondary school there.

“I had a passion for art as a very young child and remember it being the highlight of my day at school,” she said. “I was academically strong but felt a huge release from the stress of maintaining straight As and passing all my tests and exams as soon as I set foot in the art room. I saw art as a way of combining all the subjects I loved in a more relaxed atmosphere.”

Hicks graduated in 1991 from the Loughborough College of Arts and Design with a B.A. in textile design and in 1996 earned her post graduate certificate in secondary level art education from Manchester Metropolitan University.

“My entire family, including my mother, siblings, nieces and nephews, still live in Manchester,” she said. “I would probably still live there, too, if I hadn’t met my husband, who is from Buckhannon, at a summer camp in North Carolina in the summer of 1994. I had been living and working in London for three years as a textile designer when, at the age of 25, I applied for a summer camp teaching job in Brevard, North Carolina.”

Hicks said her future husband was the lifeguard at the pool at the camp. She said they are the proud parents of Lily, a student at West Virginia University; Christian, also a student at WVU; and Emma, who attends B-UHS.

“I was absolutely thrilled to receive the award of Middle School Educator of the Year 2018 from the West Virginia Arts Educators Association, most specifically because it was a peer nomination/vote process, and many of our members are outstanding art educators whom I greatly admire,” she said. “I have been blessed with several humbling awards since teaching in Upshur County, including Buckhannon Academy Teacher of the Year in 2012, Upshur County Teacher of the Year in 2012 and the Arch Coal Teacher Award in 2013.”

So, what is next for Hicks?

“Honestly, I’m not sure other than continuing to work hard, serve the students of Upshur County and plan and implement fun, educational, rigorous art lessons,” Hicks said.

Heidi Thompson, winner of the 2018 West Virginia Art Education Association Secondary Art Educator of the Year, has taught students in Upshur County for nine years.

“I worked at French Creek, Washington District and Rock Cave elementary schools as an itinerant art teacher for four years before moving to my current position at B-UHS,” Thompson said.

She said she enjoys teaching art to all levels of students.

“However, my current position at B-UHS allows me to teach advanced media such as clay, while also influencing some of our most talented students through the Advanced Placement Studio Art course,” she said.

Heidi Thompson
Heidi Thompson, Art Educator of the Year (Secondary Education)

Thompson feels art is a vital part of the education of all students for many reasons.

“The art-making process teaches and reinforces critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” she said. “Students also learn about history and its cultures by studying artwork from the past. But most importantly, art provides an opportunity for self-expression.”

Thompson grew up in Weston and graduated from Lewis County High School.

“That is where my interest in art really began to grow,” Thompson said. “It was through the Art Education program at West Virginia University that I really began to grow as an artist and aspiring educator. In 2003, I graduated from WVU, where I attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in visual art and art education.”

She and her husband, Philip Keith, have lived in Buckhannon with their three children for 15 years.

In addition to her time teaching in Upshur County Schools, she worked for five years in Randolph County as an ArtsBank instructor.

“I have taught summer art classes for children through the Randolph County Community Arts Center in Elkins and most recently at Artistry on Main in Buckhannon,” Thompson said. “I am completely honored and humbled by this award.”

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