Leading from the Middle semi-regular musings from NAEA's Middle Level Division

January 2019
Register today for Pre-Con Comic Con!

NAEA invites you to attend its first ever Pre-Con Comic-Con. Join us for this one-day pre-conference experience in which we will explore the World of Comics and Visual Storytelling. We will dig deep into comics’ potential to create new worlds, reflecting our own experiences and imagining the unknown. We will examine the communicative and expressive power of Comics, combining narrative with character, form, and structure.

Over the course of this day-long event, we will further our appreciation for the artform, while evaluating comics’ potential role within the classroom. Together we will actively explore both the practical and pedagogical applications, while creating our own artwork to illustrate our understanding and inspire future inquiry with our students.


The day opens with an inspiring panel of renown comic artists, Sanford Greene & Erica Henderson, moderated by, Anna Christine, a Boston-based expert in the comics field. Our guest artists will discuss their personal and professional journeys within the world of comics, while providing insight into their practice and reflecting on the role art educators have played in their own stories.

The event continues in the afternoon with a series of hands-on workshops, led by some of our panel artists and a talented group of Boston-area artists/educators, including Beth Barnett, Maura McGonagle, Marika McCoola and Meg Nicoll. Attendees will choose from a variety of sessions, exploring all corners of the comic world.

The organizers of the Pre-Con Comic-Con hope you will leave the event with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Comic Arts, a handful of ideas to bring back to your students, a wider network of colleagues with whom to connect, and the inspiration to tell your visual story.

#NAEA19 in Boston

Our Division Line-up Will include:

Thursday, MARCH 14
  • National Junior Art Honor Society: A Toolkit for Success. For anyone interested in starting, re-starting or growing their very own NJAHS chapter, this session tackles the big questions and prepares you to pursue this valuable student leadership opportunity. 11:00-11:50 am | Meeting Room 204.
  • Conversation with Colleagues: A Middle Level Meet-Up. Connect with your fellow middle level educators in this open-ended, discussion-based session. Share your voice with divisional leaders, gain insights into issues facing our division, and explore ongoing division initiatives. 12:00-1:20 pm | Meeting Room 111.
  • All Divisions Combined Awards Ceremony. Join us as we celebrate with our national and regional awardees. 4:00-5:50 pm | Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
Friday, March 15
  • Y’all Means All : Safe Spaces, GSAs, and the Middle School Art Room. The Middle Division and LGBTQ+ have partnered to bring you this interactive session, which will provide strategies and supports for establishing and maintaining a safe, welcoming environment for all students. Co-Facilitated by Barry Morang of Rhode Island. 9:00-9:50 am | Meeting Room 208.
  • Middle Medley I: An Art Room for All. Join this round-robin of essential discussions about fostering equitable learning environments that welcome ALL students. Join our panel of talented educators as they inspire us to adapt to meet students’ needs. Co-facilitated by Jessica Jones of Minnesota. 11:00-11:50 am | Meeting Room 204.
  • Escape the (ART)room! Game Design for the K-12 Art Classroom. Someone's gone missing! We need your help to solve the mystery! Enter this immersive experience in which our K-12 divisions examine the potential for game design in the art classroom. Designed and facilitated by Director-Elect, Kathy Bareis from Wisconsin. 1:00-1:50 pm | Meeting Room 204.
Saturday, March 16
  • Excellence in Our Midst: Middle Level Awardee Showcase. Seize this opportunity to learn from the BEST! Our National and Regional Middle Level award winners open their classrooms to share best practices and strategies for establishing exceptional art programs. Awardees include: Alice Gentili (National), Jennifer Davis (Western), Cynthia Gaub (Pacific), Ben Tellie (Eastern), Maggie Vidal-Santos (Southeastern), and Joan Weatherford (NJAHS Sponsor). 1:00-1:50 pm | Meeting Room 204
  • Middle Medley II: Promising Practices. Prepare for a whirlwind of inspiration as this round-robin event introduces you to middle level educators from across NAEA. Explore topics of curriculum, assessment and student engagement all at once. Co-facilitated by Tamika Diaz of New Jersey. 2:00-2:50 pm | Meeting Room 201.

Thank you to all who submitted proposals to join our Medley teams. It was so inspiring to see all the great work that is being done across our division. After careful review of all the wonderful submissions, our review team selected four presenters for each Medley session.

Friday, March 15th, 11:00-11:50 am in Meeting Room 204

Medley 1 Presenter Team: Leslie Flowers, Kate Duffy, Amanda Pigott & Leigh Drake

Saturday, March 16th, 2:00-2:50 pm in Meeting Room 201

Medley 2 Presenter Team: Cory Bucknam, Ellen Craig, Kelly Fergus & Nicole Miller

2019 National & Regional Awardees

Congratulations to our NATIONAL MIDDLE LEVEL ART EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR: ALICE GENTILI, from Massachusetts. Alice “carefully cultivates a culture of respect in the classroom,” shares her superintendent, Dr. Joseph Maruszczak. “She is tireless in her efforts to engage her students and improve our larger school community.” Alice is “the epitome of an outstanding educator, as she possesses characteristics such as creativity, enthusiasm, and compassion.” Alice is a “true blue Mendon-Upton,” Maruszczak continues, “Because of her professionalism, instructional leadership, and stalwart commitment to lifelong learning.”

JENNIFER DAVIS, from Ohio, is our WESTERN REGION awardee. In Jennifer’s classroom, “every child is treated like a star,” shares her nominator, Melanie Antram-Ingraham. “Jennifer is a teacher who brings innovation and collaboration to new levels.” Citing an extensive artists-in-residence program, her nominator shares, “Instead of thinking of her [rural] location as a limitation of the geography, Jennifer invites well-renowned artists into her classroom,” which has “transformed the culture of her school by filling nearly all public spaces with large-scale student art.”

Our PACIFIC REGION awardee is CYNTHIA GAUB, from Washington. Cynthia is “a superior educator dedicated to her profession,” writes her former principal, Mary O’Brien. “Her interactions with students reflect genuine respect and caring for each individual student,” creating a learning environment in which students “feel valued and safe.” Cynthia “implements a choice-based classroom art studio model where students become innovators and gain an appreciation and understanding of visual arts. She believes in her students and assists them in achieving their personal best.”

BENJAMIN TELLIE, of Maryland, is our EASTERN REGION awardee. Benjamin is “one of the very best colleagues and most dedicated teachers I have come across in my twenty-one years in education,” writes Dr. David Solomon, the Director of Arts Education at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland. “His willingness to partner with colleagues…and his drive to research best techniques in his field - and publish his findings! - is largely unparalleled.” Dr. Solomon commends Ben’s “calm, sensitive demeanor and the individual attention he gives to each student,” which is evidence of Ben’s “thirst for knowledge about art education.”

MAGGIE VIDAL-SANTOS, from Florida, is our SOUTHEASTERN REGION awardee. “Every time we meet, the conversation starts off with, ‘I was thinking…,’” shares Maggie Vidal-Santos’s principal, Dr. Maria Rodriguez, who calls her “one of the most passionate educators I know.” She goes on, citing her “heart and vision” as means to “guiding her students in tapping into their innermost feelings and being who the genuinely are.” She concludes, “Ms. Vidal-Santos exemplifies what every educator should be when it comes to drive and dedication,” and she is “making a true difference in the world.”

JOAN WEATHERFORD, from Georgia, is our NATIONAL JUNIOR ART HONOR SOCIETY SPONSOR OF THE YEAR. Joan has served as an art honor society sponsor for the past fifteen years in Cobb County, Georgia. Reflecting on Joan’s recent tenure as Dodgen Middle School’s NJAHS sponsor, nominator and parent volunteer, Rucsandra Doctor Woods writes, “Joan is a pleasure to work with and is a highly effective and gifted artist and teacher.” She is “consistently energetic, positive, respectful and interested in her students. She engages her students well and brings the ideas of the NJAHS members to life.”

CONGRATULATIONS to all our 2019 Awardees! They all have done some incredible work and represent what makes the Middle Division so special! Thank you to all who submitted a nomination and, if your nominee wasn't named this year, we encourage you to submit again for 2020! Keep an eye out next summer when the new nomination process begins.


We've shared our #MiddleMatters design on Teespring, so you can deck yourself out in Middle Division swag for the convention! We've priced them as close to cost as the site would allow (all extra costs go to Americans for the Arts Action Fund).

If you encounter any printing issues, please email naeamiddlelevel@gmail.com.

#MiddleMatters BUTTONS!

We also printed a bunch of #MiddleMatters buttons. Want an early sample? Email naeamiddlelevel@gmail.com to request one (or two!) Include your mailing address and we'll send one your way!

Other division news

Welcome aboard, Dr. Aimee Burgamy!

The election results have been announced, and our incoming Division Director will be Dr. Aimee Burgamy, from Georgia. We are so excited to welcome Aimee to the leadership team.

Aimee and the team will be in attendance at #NAEA19 in Boston. If you run into her, please take a moment to congratulate her and share your own vision for our division. Aimee will succeed our current Director-Elect, Kathy Bareis, as Kathy assumes her role as Director following the convention.

Our new FB "Page" is up and running! Connect today to stay up to date with our division happenings!

We have switched our Facebook usage from an individual "PROFILE" to a "PAGE." This has provided some much needed tools and has simplified the process. If you haven't "LIKED" our new page yet, you could be missing out! Check it out!

Find us on Twitter and Instagram, too!
NJAHS Happenings
Check out the new online chapter management tool!
  • NAEA has introduced its new, online Chapter Management Dashboard. You can now start/renew your chapter, submit your roster, upload your constitution, etc. This new service promises to streamline much of the workload of our chapter sponsors. Go to bit.ly/NJAHSdashboard
  • Be sure to check out our #NAEA19 session titled: National Junior Art Honor Society: A Toolkit for Success. For anyone interested in starting, re-starting or growing their very own NJAHS chapter, this session will tackle the big questions and prepare you to pursue this valuable student leadership opportunity. Thursday, March 14, 11:00-11:50 am in Meeting Room 204.
  • Check out our NJAHS Sponsor Forum on Facebook! We're looking to connect with chapter sponsors, soon-to-be chapter sponsors, and folks just curious about the whole art honor society thing.
  • Follow our "NJAHS SPONSOR FORUM" Pinterest Board. We are constantly adding resources to share, and we hope to build this resource over the coming months and years. If you'd like to be added as a contributor, email naeamiddlelevel@gmail.com
Fabulous Faculty | A Spotlight Series


Sara Gaechter

Richard Merkin Middle School | Los Angeles, California

We asked ms. Gaechter to share the qualities that make her classroom a special place in which to learn and create?

I believe that all Art classrooms are special places for students because they provide them authentic opportunities to discover themselves and grow through their own self-expression. My classroom is special because my students are special.

Every day my students come in to my room with the understanding that they are largely responsible for their own education, and it is this understanding that gives them the agency to support and celebrate each other’s learning and creation. My classroom is a place where my students feel safe and supported, because they work hard to consciously maintain this environment. As middle schoolers my students are experiencing a great deal of change, which is why it is so important for me and them to have our Art room be a place where they can make decisions and take risks without fear of being judged. The feeling of being in a classroom where every person in that room supports you, is like you are limitless, you can do anything! This kind of environment opens the floodgates for creativity. All these things are not unique to my classroom, but my students and I value them greatly, and our class would not be the same without them.

Images from Ms. Gaechter's classroom

Where do you find inspiration for your lessons?

I am largely inspired by the contemporary art world for my teaching. In an effort to keep my classroom relevant to the lives my students, I try to keep a finger on the pulse of current events in the art world in order to integrate them into my curriculum. My students value real-world-applicable work in school, and this is one way I provide that to them. I strive to expose them to just as much contemporary art as traditional classics. As we learn about these innovative movements and the artists at their forefront, my students build skills in visual analysis and communication of the ideas and opinions they develop. I believe this will prepare them to enter the contemporary art world prepared to engage with ongoing discourse.

I am also very inspired by the increasing pool of voices in the art world, and try to bring these diverse ideas and works into my classroom as often as possible. I try to teach with an emphasis on diversity and focus on many women artists, LGBTQ artists, artists of color, etc. The community I teach is 98% Latino and as artists of color themselves, my students are empowered to see successful artists who look, think, and create, like them - racial and cultural representation is so powerful for my students, and is an important influence in my teaching.

Thank you, Sara, for sharing this glimpse into your inspiring program.

BONUS: Check out Ms. Gaechter's compilation of student-made videos as part of her 2018 RMMS Film Festival!

If you would like to recognize a Fabulous Faculty or share a bit about your own program, please contact our Eastern Regional Division Director, Leslie Flowers.

Did you know NAEA hosts a Career Center for Job Seekers and Employers?
STAY COnnected
Recent profile/cover art, submitted by Gail Borowski and Glenda Lubiner
  • PROFILE PICS. Every week or so, our social media profile pic changes to feature a student's artwork. If you would like to share your students' work for consideration, please email your attachments to naeamiddlelevel@gmail.com. Please include your name, your school name & location, and title/medium/etc. of the attached work.
national art education association
  • NAEA Mission. The National Art Education Association advances visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding.
  • NAEA's Statement on Diversity & Inclusion. NAEA is committed to the important role of visual art education in providing and promoting more just, inclusive learning communities in local and global contexts, and embraces diversity as an integral part of the mission of visual art education. The mosaic of our global humanity is enriched and expanded by the inclusion of all peoples and cultures and the art forms they create.
Featured Cover Art
cover artwork by Reagan Sullivan, Grade 8, Sarah Banks Middle School, Wixom, Michigan

Thank you to Sheryl Matties, who teaches at Sarah Banks Middle School in Wixom, Michigan, for sharing her student's work for this issue's cover.

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