Photo: Dominic Agostini
Floridian of the Year 2019
Florida teacher Shannon Kraeling helps other teachers incorporate art into their lesson plans.
Shannon Kraeling helps other teachers incorporate art into their lesson plans.
During her time as a speech therapist in Pasco County from 1995-98, Shannon Kraeling often worked with students whose language skills were delayed. She realized that if she did “story-boarding” — drawing out a scene with pictures — it helped her students learn to write better.
Kraeling went on to get a master’s degree in art education and curriculum development, writing her master’s thesis on the “correlation between language and art production, with clinical response and classroom art integration.”
It’s a concept she still uses today at Eau Gallie High School, a B-rated public school at the northern end of Melbourne where she teaches ceramics and helps other teachers infuse art into their lesson plans.
“The arts are a motivational perk,” Kraeling says. “You can get the kids who are really apathetic about a subject or maybe a class they’re really struggling with and when you add an arts-integrated unit, you actually tie it into something they have an interest in.”
As students learn about cell structures in biology class, for instance, Kraeling teaches them impressionistic painting techniques to re-create what they see under the microscope. Or instead of writing a paper on the American Revolution, history students might perform a musical or create a skit about the historical events. “It works with any content,” she says.
When colleagues are skeptical, Kraeling asks them to give her their hardest unit. Most become quick converts. With the arts, “you automatically have student buy-in,” she says. “They’re going to learn it and they’re going to perform better, so you just immediately see results.”
Though Eau Gallie isn’t a Title 1 school, 47.9% of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch rates. Two-parent households are rare, Kraeling says, and kids who go on to college are often the first generation in their family to do so.
A key challenge, she says, is teaching in a way that will reach students with a wide range of abilities. “I’ve got kids that can’t read. I’ve got kids that are reading on a level one and two. I’ve got kids that don’t speak English; they’re not fluent. I’ve got kids that are ESE (gifted) that have lots of struggles academically,” she explains. “It’s taken me a long time to figure out a system so I could make sure that every kid is getting what they need.”
Like many Florida teachers, Kraeling has a side gig. She’s an adjunct professor at Phoenix University’s College of Education. She sees colleagues pulling in extra income doing everything from tutoring to administering SAT tests to bartending and waiting tables. “I honestly don’t know very many teachers who don’t have a second job, at least at my high school,” she says.
She also has to hustle for funding for art supplies. The school district provides just $1 per student per semester — “so I have 142 students, I get $142” — and the $20 supply fee that students pay each year doesn’t cover all the costs. The rest comes from donations from the community.
Being named Brevard’s Teacher of the Year earlier this year, she says, has helped with her fundraising efforts. But the best part, she says, is that it created a pulpit for her to share the message about how art can transform education. “I’ve been able to show them just how impactful arts integration can be for any student. We’re the reason a lot of kids even show up.”
Read more in Florida Trend's December issue.
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