By Emma Crawford Kent
TUPELO – It’s been a good year for Lawhon Elementary School art teacher Amanda Koonlaba.
Recently awarded the Thad Cochran Distinguished Arts Educator Award by the Mississippi Alliance for Art Education, Koonlaba has received another state-level award for her work as an arts educator.
Last week was named the Mississippi Art Education Association’s (MAEA) Elementary Art Educator of the Year for 2016.
Koonlaba said she received an email in August notifying her that she had been nominated for the award, although she still does not know who nominated her.
“I was floored I just could not believe it, in a good way,” Koonlaba said.
MAEA can give the award once per year, but sometimes the organization chooses not to. An Elementary Art Educator of the Year has not been named by MAEA since 2013.
The group is the Mississippi affiliate of the National Art Education Association.
Although she was surprised when she found out she had been nominated, Koonlaba said she was even more shocked to learn that she won.
“I just couldn’t believe it because I don’t know what I did to deserve it because there are so many good teachers,” Koonlaba said.
Koonlaba has taught elementary school classes – third and first grade to be exact – but there’s something about teaching art, she said, that is especially fulfilling.
At Lawhon, she headed up the Lawhon Arts Festival last spring. The event allowed students, their parents and other members of the community to come out and purchase student art and do other arts activities at the school.
Koonlaba has also contributed to a Mississippi education blog and arts education magazines. She has also served on the editorial board at Arts and Activities Magazine.
“The kids learn to express themselves, and it teaches them about how to respect the community and be a part of the community, and it just builds community around the school,” Koonlaba said. “It’s about the kids, but it’s about how through our kids we build community. We have a great arts-loving community in Tupelo.”
Koonlaba will officially accept her award at a ceremony at Tougaloo College on Nov. 12. She plans to attend the ceremony with her family.
Although awards aren’t her reason for teaching, Koonlaba admits the recognition for her work and passion is affirming.
“It reassures you that you’re doing the right thing, that when I get up in the morning and go to my job that I’m doing good in the world,” Koonlaba said.