She started her career with National Heritage Academies (NHA) as the K-2 art teacher at Queen’s Grant Community School in 2011 and transferred to help open Matthews as the K-8 art teacher in 2016. Since then, her impact helping students demonstrate their creativity is quite unmistakable – all you have to do is look around the school. In her classroom, scholars’ minds roam free, as evidenced by its transformation into a glow gallery for Night of the Arts, with luminescent works shining bright.
“This year, I bought some glow in the dark paints for some of the classes for their projects they did,” she said. “The one particular one that I can think of is we use the books ‘Dragons Love Tacos’ and we did a drawing out of the book and they painted it with glow in the dark paint. Then I turned my room into a glow in the dark gallery for our show, which was huge.”
Laney was recognized as a winner of the 2020-21 NHA Excellence Awards. She was in the dark about receiving the award, but when the reveal arrived there was no lack of festivities.
“We had an all-school assembly and my husband and my kids both knew about it,” Laney said of the Excellence awards. “My husband was there and had my kids on FaceTime because they live out of town. My whole team had glitter cannons and surprised me.”
Laney’s projects around the school include:
- Two sensory pathways painted on the sidewalk in front of the school for scholars who need a break during the day.
- Paw prints (the school mascot is the Pride) painted on the sidewalks outside to assist scholars with social distancing during COVID-19.
- Offering after school art clubs for upper and lower grade levels.
- Offering several art themed camps for scholars in the summer.
- Coordinating the creation of school rock garden at MCA, with scholars and staff painting colorful rocks to be included.
- Hosting two painting classes as team building activities for staff.
Along with its aesthetic quality, the sensory path was an opportunity for Laney to provide the school with an almost therapeutic piece of art.
“My daughter is a social worker and she works a lot with restorative justice,” she said. “We were talking about how to incorporate restorative justice into behavior instead of the kids punished for something. ‘How can we do something that they can be rewarded for?’ The sensory path was all about trying to control behavior before it gets out of control.”
As Matthews neared the end of the fourth quarter of the school year, Laney took scholars to a glass blowing shop. It’s a trip that hadn’t happened in a few years because of the pandemic, but Laney was glad to cap the year with something students would remember.
“They call them friendship balls, but it's basically like a round Christmas ornament, they get to choose the colors,” she said.
Two of Laney’s scholars’ artwork has been selected for the NHA Holiday Card, in 2014 and 2021, and numerous scholars’ artwork have been selected for the NHA Moral Focus anthology and recognized as finalists.
“I’d like to see them start entering more competitions,” she said. “Maybe even some local competitions to see if we can get the kids that are really interested in art to start and develop a portfolio for high school.”
Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Laney!
Matthews Charter Academy, a school in Matthews, North Carolina, is a partner school in the National Heritage Academies network of over 90 tuition-free, public charter schools across nine states, serving more than 60,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
Note: This is one in a series recognizing winners of the 2020-21 NHA Excellence Awards, a program that honors educators, deans, and administrative teams across our network.