SPOTLIGHT ON TEACHERS Sara Stillman and Trena Noval

This is the fifth year of a unique collaboration between art teacher Sara Stillman and her 12th grade Fine Arts and Design students at Emery Secondary School in Alameda County and student teachers in Trena Noval’s Creative Practice Studio class at the College of the Arts in Oakland.  This year the student teachers developed curriculum for and taught a nine-lesson unit on the theme of “Shelter” as part of an ongoing Shelter Project. Sara is a ward-winning artist and arts educator who teaches visual arts to 7th through 12th grade students. She studied Photography and Fiber Arts and holds a Masters in Art Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.  While in Ann Arbor, Sara volunteered with the Michigan Department of Corrections teaching art to prisoners, an experience that inspired her to pursue teaching. In New York City, she worked in the photo department at ESPN The Magazine. Sara and her students’ work have been featured on national television programs, as well as in books, and several museums and galleries. Trena is an arts educator and a community and digital media artist who teaches at California College of the Arts.  She is also an action researcher for arts learning through the Alameda County Office of where she teaches and leads professional development for artists and teachers focusing on arts integration and community video projects. She has received numerous awards and grants for her work. Trena has been an artist in residence for the past 6 years at Peralta Elementary School in Oakland. Emery is nestled in between Oakland and Berkeley so students come from Emeryville as well as neighboring cities. The small school has about 270 students (8-12 grade). Sara says, “My students are curious learners and critical thinkers and several of them have not had many art experiences prior to our class together. They are very dedicated to their work and have produced some amazing art this year. The teaching staff at ESS work very hard to build community in our classrooms and our students are thoughtful and caring toward each other as a result.” The unit in the on-line CCSESA Arts Assessment Compendium explores how different cultures around the world live and create shelter from materials that are commonly available and students constructed a shelter. One of the most successful outcomes of this unit was creating a learning environment where students, student teachers and faculty were able to explore a theme that allowed them to co-construct knowledge. As core teachers, Sara and Trena set up specific structures and guidelines for the CCA Student Teachers to help organize and drive their collaboration with Emery students, but allowed for multiple levels of exploration and development of larger cultural and community competencies to unfold based on student identified needs and curiosities. Sara and Trena reflect that giving CCA Student Teachers the opportunity to develop curriculum that allowed them to truly respond flexibly to student’s learning, ideas and needs, was not only a remarkable experience for the students, but also for the two of them as teachers. Trena and Sara acted as teacher models to help aid in their learning. They say that the process of looking at structures from around the world to understand materials, attachment strategies and how walls and roofs are constructed came out of an understanding of students lack of knowledge about basic structures and how one might go about creating a shelter with simple design and construction strategies. This also paved the way to take a global perspective about how people around the world live and how they use local resources to create environments that offer comfort and shelter. The concept mapping they did early in the unit helped students understand and share their own individual needs and school community needs. This lead to the decision to design two shade structures that were the final project, and allowed students to understand how they could impact their community in a positive way through their art practice – using art as a powerful tool to better their world. For more details on this unit of study, go to, click on Toolbox, click on Arts Assessment Compendium, scroll down and click on Find Projects by teachers, scroll down and click on Sara Stillman and Trena Noval.
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