Nelda Lee Sturgeon, a Prekindergarten Teacher at Robertson Academy, has been named the 2014 Teacher of the Year by the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Chosen for her standards of excellence in arts education, Sturgeon received the award on April 24 when she attended the concert Give Yourself a High Five at TPAC with her students.
Sturgeon is among hundreds of teachers who have collaborated with TPAC Education over three decades for hands-on learning experiences to meet cross-curriculum objectives. Classroom activities are enhanced with a field trip to TPAC, where the annual education season includes a diverse lineup of theater, music, opera, and dance for students from preschool through high school.
“I involve my students in TPAC Education programs because they offer a rich world of creativity and expression to each child. They foster a child’s natural curiosity while being attentive to all learning styles. The total child is taught in a deep and meaningful way—individualized, yet engaging the entire group,” says Sturgeon, who has participated TPAC’s ArtSmart—the first national affiliate of a model developed by the Lincoln Center Institute—for more than 30 years. She teaches multiple classes of gifted children at Robertson Academy through Metro Nashville Public School’s ENCORE program.
“Arts education makes a huge difference to gifted children, who have special abilities and special needs—how they express themselves and connect with other people, for instance. ArtSmart units reach children on a very holistic level, enhancing their ability to express themselves in ways that they are understood by others and setting the stage for how they handle challenges throughout their lives,” she says. “I consistently find that all of my curriculum objectives are met through ArtSmart. They are developmentally appropriate, intellectually stimulating, and up to the challenge of meeting gifted criteria for higher-level thinking.
“Plus, I’ve learned from every artist who’s worked in my classroom. That carries over year after year. These professional artists are specially trained by TPAC to work in schools. They bring a creativity to the classroom that helps teachers and children to see everyday things in a magical way. It’s a phenomenal opportunity to have real artists, teaching artists, working hands-on with children and teachers.”
A life-long resident of Nashville, Sturgeon was introduced to the arts at a young age herself by parents who took her to the marionette shows at Nashville Public Library and plays at Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre. Her father, Bob Lee, a salesman in the trucking industry, was, in fact, the first person to buy season tickets to Chaffin’s where he often entertained clients.
Sturgeon firmly believes that the arts unite people, no matter their age. “It’s something we experience together, yet appreciate at our own level,” she explains. “That’s a remarkable attribute of what the arts do for education and society. TPAC provides an amazing, amazing, service to our community.”
In its 20th year, the Teacher of the Year Award includes a $500 grant for the recipient’s school.
About Tennessee Performing Arts Center
Over three decades, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center has welcomed more than 11 million audience members and served more than 1.6 million students and educators with performances at TPAC, resources for teachers, classroom residencies, and enrichment programs for adults. Founded in 1980, TPAC is a non-profit organization which presents the annual series of HCA/TriStar Broadway at TPAC, a variety of special engagements and is home to three resident artistic companies—Nashville Ballet, Nashville Opera, and Tennessee Repertory Theatre. For more information, visit www.tpac.org.
*Photo of Nelda Lee Sturgeon and TPAC CEO Kathleen O’Brien courtesy TPAC.