National Art Award

Percy Priest Elementary Teacher Wins National Art Educator Award
Posted on 02/15/2024
Dr. Tina Atkinson

Tina Adkinson

Dr. Tina Atkinson guides an eager group of fifth graders through the work of making “altered books” – old, discarded books in which they can write, decorate and even carve out small storage compartments – with the promise of creating something unique and original.

“It’s going from one of a million,” Atkinson tells her students, “to a work of art.”

Atkinson, who has been teaching at Percy Priest Elementary School for 26 years, is unique, too: She has been named the National Elementary Art Educator by the National Art Education Association and will be honored at a national conference in Minnesota in April.

“She just is able to create a culture in the class where everyone loves art and just gets to explore and create, and that is what it’s all about,” Percy Priest Principal Russell Young said. “As a kid, I always felt like I wasn’t good at art, and then coming in to observe Dr. A, I realized that there’s no such thing as not being good at art. If you love what you make and create, then that’s great.

“She builds that culture in students, and it’s just so amazing to see.”

Atkinson also has been named the 2024 Southeastern Regional Elementary Art Educator of the Year and says she’s learned a lot from teachers throughout the South. teacher with student in class

Atkinson teaches each of Percy Priest’s 530 students over the course of a week. She says art takes what they’re learning in their other classes – reading, math, science, social studies – and puts it all together.

She focuses on giving students choices as they make plans for their pieces. Having those choices helps instill confidence as they decide that “this is what I want to create,” she said.

And, as Young observed, Atkinson wants every student to know that they aren’t “bad” at art.

“It doesn’t matter if your friend doesn’t love your art,” she says. “As long as you like it and it brought you joy, that’s all that matters.”

Atkinson, who grew up in Pennsylvania and came to Nashville as MNPS was putting a new emphasis on elementary art education in the late 1990s, said the recognition from the National Art Education Association means a lot to her.

“The people I work with are 5-through-11-year-olds,” she said. “I see more 5-through-11-year-olds than I see adults all day long. So you never are quite sure, am I doing the right thing? So being able to be recognized by other art educators as exceptional enough to receive an award is very humbling and really validating. I never thought when someone nominated me that they would pick me.”

Atkinson occasionally gets to take her students out of the classroom. She’s led them on walking field trips to “inspect” and sketch small bridges in Percy Priest’s Forest Hills neighborhood, and those outings have generated the questions and curiosity she loves to see.

Questions also were easy to find as the recent lesson on altered books quickly picked up steam: Can the repurposed book still tell a story? Is it necessary to show any of the original words? What kind of book is good to use? What kind of cover should it have?

“I’m super excited,” Atkinson told her students, “that you’re excited about these books.”

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