On Friday, October 7th the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) awarded Visual Arts Teacher, Sia Kyriakakos, the highest state honor of Maryland Teacher of the Year! Sia is a Visual Arts Teacher at AED Partner School Merganthaler Vocational Technical High School (Mervo) and a tireless advocate for the arts in Baltimore City. The announcement was made at MSDE’s 26th Annual Awards Gala where she was supported by a cheering team including Dr. Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Schools, Mervo principal Craig Rivers, students, fellow teachers, community members and Arts Every Day! Sia will go on to represent Maryland for National Teacher of the Year.
Please join us in congratulating and recognizing Sia’s tremendous work as a teacher, advocate, and artist!
What Drives Me To Teach
By Sia Kyriakakos
It was about that moment. Up to that point, I thought that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. I was an exhibiting artist in Connecticut, and one of my artist friends ran this Saturday art program for at risk girls. She had asked me a number of times to come and help her teach. I had refused vehemently. I made art. I didn’t teach. But this one time she was really sick so she asked me, she begged me to help her out. There were no cell phones at the time so she couldn’t contact her students to cancel. I reluctantly agreed. I asked her what I could teach. She said “anything.” “Just get there after the sun rises. Leave before the sun sets. Wear galoshes.” I decided to do papermaking. I ground paper for days, and come Saturday, I arrived in the early fall morning to one of the roughest neighborhoods of New Britain, CT.
The classes took place in somebody’s garage that was often submerged in water. I put the vats of paper pulp on the assigned Ping-Pong table used for art making, sloshing through the ankle deep water. She had told me that at 8:00 to take this old fashioned bell and walk though the back alleyways ringing it. So at 8:00 I picked up the bell. There was nobody outside. The air was crisp. As I walked through the back alleyways I rang the bell over my head. “Ding-Dong, Ding-Dong, Ding-Dong”. And to my disbelief, out of those run down row houses, spilled girls, wearing bathrobes, and galoshes, Pop-Tarts in hand. And they all came into that little garage and we made paper. We made paper all day – together -non stop, until one of the mom’s with a broken English accent came and told me, “Go. The sun is about to set.” That following Monday, I walked into Central Connecticut State University, and enrolled to become a certified teacher.
I give my students a toolkit of strategies that help them to reach their potential in art and also in their lives. I take them out of the classroom through various exhibitions and I expose them to a world that exists beyond the walls of the school and the borders of their neighborhoods. Together we become cultural ambassadors and break the boundaries of poverty, the restrictions set upon them by the adversity of living in an urban environment – and we do it all through art. In the classroom, I foster “soft” skills like focus, resilience, and perseverance – all attributes needed to create successful independent citizens. Our urban youth are constantly underestimated and the expectations that are set upon them are often very low. Using data as a vehicle to set individual goals and objectives for each student, I meet the students where they are and, in only a few short months, move them grade levels ahead to where they should be. And I don’t leave anyone behind. I push because I know they can do it. I nag them, I text them, I call their parents. I have their friend talk to them. And I don’t give up on them until they unlock the possibilities within them. As Congressman Elijah Cummings pointed out – my ‘students dreams’ become my own, and when they succeed, I succeed.
That moment from so long ago has unfolded into years. And because I can, I do teach. Those lovely girls on that cold morning in Connecticut helped me see within myself the key to helping others reach their fullest potential. Teaching art isn’t only about color and lines; it’s about equity of knowledge and opening a world of possibilities to our students.About Sia Kyriakakos
Passion, resilience, perseverance, are the outcome of the relationships Ms. Kyriakakos builds with her students. Athanasia Kyriakakos earned her MFA degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2000, her teaching certification from Central Connecticut State University in 1995 and her BFA degree from The Maryland Institute College of Art in 1991. While teaching in Baltimore, she has been a member of the Instructional Leadership Team, an SLO ambassador and in 2015 a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Teacher Leaders program. As a world-renowned artist she represented Greece in the 50th Venice Biennale, and received a Fulbright. She currently teaches visual art at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School, an Arts Every Day partner school.