Former Hand Middle School principal named 2015 Arts Administrator of the Year

Former Hand Middle School principal named 2015 Arts Administrator of the Year


Article by Kelly Petty

The folks at Hand Middle School takes art seriously. Just about every wall in the school is adorned with colorful murals and original artwork from the students. The sounds of a rehearsal, band practice or orchestra warm up can be heard in the halls. None of it would be possible without the efforts of the faculty and staff under the former principal Marisa Vickers.

Vickers was acknowledged for her leadership in promoting the arts and arts education at the school with the 2015 Arts Administrator of the Year Award by the South Carolina Alliance for Arts Education.

“I’m thrilled, absolutely honored and humbled by the award,” she said. “It’s truly a collaborative award based on the work of Hand Middle School. I worked with extraordinary, talented and visionary teachers in the arts and academics.”

Vickers, who was promoted to serve as an executive director of schools for Richland School District One this year after serving as principal for 15 years, pushed for a comprehensive initiative to infuse arts in daily instruction at the Hand Middle.

Vickers and the faculty and staff at the school found that they could create meaningful connections in the curriculum and build an interdisciplinary learning environment when art was incorporated into study.

“We need to have those connections and approach children with different learning styles,” Vickers said. “The arts do a beautiful job of that.”

The school offers orchestra, drama, chorus, dance, visual arts and band for students in sixth through eighth grade. Vickers said creative writing and video production was added to encompass all forms of the arts.

Art also has become a tool for learning within the classroom for general subject courses.

Sixth-grade students in drama who studied social studies and world history performed “The Odyssey” and other theatrical productions related to that time period, Vickers said.

Those in drama who are bit shy to get on stage have an opportunity to learn stage production, including lighting, sound and set design through the technology team led by Hand Middle’s stage manager and orchestra teacher.

Vickers said students apply for the program during the spring and are trained during the summer. Those students go on to manage and operate what happens behind-the-scenes of a performance, which helps them develop into leaders.

“It’s motivational because children are actually involved. It’s not just what we’re performing on stage, it’s all the facets,” Vicker said. “We discover strengths we did not know existed in our students.”

Teachers are encouraged seek arts-related grants attend arts education conferences and collaborate on ideas to promote the success of the arts programs at Hand Middle. Vickers said the school gained exemplary on its report card because of the extensive arts curriculum.

“We pulled on children’s strengths and allowed children to showcase their works with alternative types of products that you don’t traditionally see in a classroom,” Vickers said.

Hand Middle also extended their passion for the arts out into the community with a partnership between the city of Columbia and the school’s foundation to build an outdoor amphitheater at Emily Douglass Park.

The venue has become a place to hold performances including Richland One’s jazz festival, as well as integrate into the existing park for the community to enjoy.

“It’s important for students to have an audience for their work,” Vickers said.

The teachers and staff at Hand Middle continue to make the arts and integral part of learning and have drawn on the lessons and leadership Vickers left.

The teachers and staff at Hand Middle continue to make the arts and integral part of learning and have drawn on the lessons and leadership Vickers left.

“I wanted to be the teacher that I didn’t have and that is why I use the arts,” said creative writing teacher Helen Schell.

Schell said Vickers was a leader that gave teachers a chance to pursue new ideas to integrate art in the classroom, even allowing faculty-led classes to create learning experiences for other teachers to get them familiar with the arts.

“Mrs. Vickers trusts her teachers,” said Kara Corley, dance teacher. “She knows we know our craft. She trusts that we are going to deliver it accurately and enthusiastically to the students.”

Jennifer Simmons, Hand Middle’s theater teacher, nominated Vickers. She said Vickers represented the type of administrator that was an ardent, visible supporter of the arts, which created an environment to see students blossom.

“Whenever we would go to her for an idea or project, she would always respond with ‘That’s a great idea. What can I do to help,” Simmons said.

Vickers said receiving the award was unexpected because creating art does not come easy to her.

“My art class in college was my most challenging,” she said. “It is not a natural strength of mine.”

The experiences she had a Hand Middle, however, have continued to challenge her at the district level as she seeks to empower all students through learning.

“Collaboration with all of our stakeholder groups, our teachers, students and community members–it will only make us stronger because our students are an investment,” she said.

Image: The 2015 Arts Administrator of the Year Award recently was presented to  Marisa Vickers (center), who served as principal of Hand Middle School from 2001-2015 before she was promoted to serve as an executive director of Richland One schools. Pictured (left to right) with Vickers at the  award ceremony are Hand’s performing arts teachers Robert Arcovio (chorus), Kara Corley (dance), Jennifer Simmons (theatre) and Mary Lou Schweickert (band).