MNPS Voices: Caroline Barnard and Kelsea Shaw

Caroline Barnard and Kelsea Shaw, teachers at Isaiah T. Creswell Middle School of the Arts
Posted on 08/26/2021
Creswell Middle School
Isaiah T. Creswell Middle School of the Arts serves a diverse population of students interested in the arts. Creswell prides itself on a culture of acceptance and community that encourages students whether art is their passion or just a hobby.

A few years ago, the school started a class system so students could collaborate across grade levels based on interests, allowing for greater collaboration. That is just one of the ways that staff make sure every student is known and encouraged.MNPS Voices Featured Teachers

Kelsea Shaw, an art teacher, and Caroline Barnard, a drama teacher, are two of Creswell’s many talented educators. Shaw is from a small town in Missouri, while Barnard is from Dallas, Texas. Both are transplants celebrating seven years teaching at the North Nashville middle school – a place where they say arts fill every classroom, even English and math.

In Shaw’s art classroom at the beginning of the year, students collaborate on expectations and community values. Their ideas, hopes and expectations are turned into posters and put up on the walls as a constant reminder to be intentional. Students fill out information cards about themselves, including chosen pronouns, dislikes and interests. Two weeks ago, students were welcomed back to classrooms after many had been virtual for the entirety of 2020, making for a busy but sweet reunion.

“My favorite moment was getting to see my students who have been in the theater department for years welcome the new students into the program,” Barnard said. “They lift each other up and have so much resilience, it’s incredibly inspiring.”

Barnard’s classroom hosts students from fifth to eighth grade, and the curriculum is developed to grow with the students. They learn theater history, practice running the lights and sound, act in shows, participate in scriptwriting and more. Students can also join masterclasses, workshops and experiences at the professional level.

These experiences set students apart from others. Last year, all three of the winners for the middle school level of Nashville Repertory Theatre’s Young Voices Competition were Creswell students, and the high school winner was a ninth-grade Creswell graduate. The class connects with professional theater companies across Nashville for theater students to have internship opportunities.

“I love watching students grow in their confidence, creativity, and use their voices to express themselves,” Barnard said. “I work hard to help our students leave my class with real-world skills that can be applied to any profession. Working with middle schoolers is incredibly fun because they are so passionate about life. They are such a bright light in our city and help me know that our future is in good hands – I have students who are going to change the world.”

Magnet School 

Last year, Creswell was one of four schools to receive new funding from the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), a $14.6 million, five-year federal grant that will allow the school to grow its programs even further. Magnet schools provide rigorous theme- and evidence-based instructional programs that promote choice and diversity in MNPS. The staff hopes the funds can be used to spread the word about Creswell’s programs in other areas of town to help more students have access to a high level of arts education.

“To me, the MSAP grant means more opportunities for our students and our future students,” Shaw said. “We have a great school; we know our families know that. But a lot of people may not know our school even exists, so hopefully, through this grant, we can make our school known to any family that has students that have a passion for the arts.”

“This grant gives us a chance to enhance all of our classes to a professional level,” Barnard said. “Our students will be able to work with materials, technology and experiences that we otherwise would have to just tell our students about.”

When Barnard is not attending plays or working in theatre, she enjoys hiking, going to Pilates classes and exploring the restaurants of Nashville. Shaw hangs out with her dog, who was rescued during her time at home in 2020, and before the pandemic she worked with art and taught compost classes part-time at Turnip Green Creative Reuse.

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