Welcome to our new blog series dedicated to highlighting some of the extraordinary educators we’ve gotten to know through their participation in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. For the past 99 years, educators have played a significant role in the success of the Awards, inspiring, encouraging, and motivating their students to dream, craft, and submit remarkable works of art and writing. Each week leading up to the national Awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall in June, we’ll be spotlighting a different educator that has played such a role in their students’ lives.
This week our series kicks off with Laura Blau, a visual arts teacher based in New York City. Laura has been teaching high school art classes at Millennium Art Academy—a Title 1 school based in the Bronx—for the past twelve and a half years. In addition to Millennium Art Academy, Blau spends her time teaching art to teens at the NYCDOE Summer Arts Institute.
Blau first came into contact with the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards back in 2008, when she was a student-teacher and attended an exhibit displaying various Gold and Silver Key-winning works. After seeing the exhibition and learning that she’d be able to get fee waivers, Laura started having her students enter their work into the competition. For the past ten years, countless of Laura’s students have received recognition from the Awards.
When asked what it was about that exhibit that initially piqued her interest about the Awards, she said:
“I just kept thinking about how wonderful it was to be able to offer the students an opportunity to be professional. It is one thing to make artwork in a classroom, and it is a completely huge leap forward to take that artwork and showcase it outside of the school, so that artists' voices can be heard by a wider audience.”
To help empower her students to value their artwork on a professional level, Blau integrates contests, including the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, into her curriculum. Laura believes that interweaving art competitions into her students’ lives are not only great motivators, but great confidence boosters for kids who’d never envisioned seeing their artwork outside of their school’s hallways, or even their own sketchbooks.
To help students submit to competitions, Laura has created step-by-step instructional guides and videos that familiarize kids with the admission process, as well as understand how to apply and acquire fee waivers.
For an educator whose students come from one of the poorest Congressional districts in the Bronx, Blau thinks competitions like the Awards are impactful and game-changing. She says:
“The Scholastic program has provided many of my students with an opportunity to showcase their work or have it mentioned in venues such as Casita Maria Center for the Arts, the New School and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A student seeing their work in a gallery or museum is greatly impacted. They begin to see themselves as the part of the working world, as a part of art history, as a part of pop culture. This makes everything learned in the classroom more tangible and applicable to real life.
We’re not alone in recognizing Laura’s extraordinary ability as an educator and mentor who goes above and beyond for her students. In 2020, she was recognized as one of 20 educators by the Department of Education with the NYC Big Apple Teacher of the Year Award!
To learn more about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, please visit artandwriting.org. And be sure to return to On Our Minds next week for our second educator spotlight!
Photo in body: Courtesy of Laura Blau.