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story.lead_photo.caption Bay Bramlett, a second-grader at Sheridan Elementary School, listens to Jeri Newberry during an art class Nov. 19. Newberry was named Elementary Art Educator of the Year at the state’s Art Educators Fall Conference on Nov. 7 in Little Rock. ( Sam Pierce)

In her classroom last week, one of Jeri Newberry’s students was struggling with drawing a reindeer. He was getting frustrated and was upset that it wasn’t turning out the way he wanted, she said.

“But then he looked at the template paper and figured it out, and by the end, his whole paper was covered,” Newberry said. “And it looked amazing.

“Failures happen, and in art, we mess up all the time. But it is important to grow from those failures and see a failure as an opportunity to grow and better yourself.”

Newberry, an art teacher at Sheridan Elementary School, was recognized as the Elementary Art Educator of the Year at the state’s Art Educators Fall Conference on Nov. 7 in Little Rock.

“It meant a lot,” she said. “I was nominated by a peer, an art peer, so it was very humbling. To be a part of that group now, it was very heartwarming and very endearing.”

“Mrs. Newberry is beyond deserving of this award,” SES Principal Lindsey Bohler said in a statement released by the school district. “She is an amazing educator who believes in all kids and will do anything to help move a student’s learning forward.”

Amber Chastain, an art teacher for the Haskell Harmony Grove School District, recommended Newberry for the award. In her recommendation letter, Chastain wrote, “Mrs. Newberry is always willing to go the extra mile to help her students and colleagues learn new ways to create art and express creativity. She exemplifies what it means to truly be a life-long learner and educator. Her students love her fun approach to learning.

“Her students learn and grow in her classroom because it provides a safe space for children to explore their interests and art-making independently. Not only is Mrs. Newberry a wonderful elementary art teacher; she is a great friend and mentor to those around her.”

Newberry is originally from Gurdon, having graduated from Gurdon High School in 1993. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia in 2007. She is in her ninth year at Sheridan Elementary.

“I wanted early childhood; I wanted the younger students. I think this is more rewarding for me, personally, than if I was teaching at the upper level,” she said.

Along with teaching art for the elementary school, she also assists with reading enrichments and math interventions during the school’s Jacket Time. She said the reading enrichments push the higher kids to another level, and the math interventions are for the kids who are struggling, and it “gives them that extra push.”

“My mission is to empower our children to be fearless of failure and eager to learn and build upon their mistakes,” Newberry said. “I want them to push forward past uncertainty and criticism and achieve their dreams, no matter what career they choose.”

“Her art room provides students with an environment to be creative in their own way and gives them an opportunity to show their uniqueness,” Bohler said.

Initially, Newberry had no plans of teaching art until her mom suggested that she take an art class at Henderson.

“I took drawing, and after a semester, I knew I liked it, and I wanted another art class,” Newberry said. “So I started thinking about it and talked to other art-education majors, and by Christmas [of that year], I had changed my major.

“I had to be a teacher; I knew that was my purpose. I just didn’t know which area — sometimes it just takes a little bit to figure it out.”

Newberry said her mom, Jimmie Dean Foyil, encouraged her to be an artist. Foyil had a shop in the 1980s and ’90s where she did a lot of folk art, and Newberry’s dad, Jimmy Down Foyil, was a woodworker. Newberry said it is important to instill the love of art and creativity into young children.

“You don’t have to be an artist when you grow up, but if you have the tools set in place when you are younger and the mindset of being able to find a solution and finding a way to fix it — it will benefit that child in some form, regardless of the career they choose. … A lot of places look for people who are highly creative, and I like creative thought, and I want to turn those out, left and right,” Newberry said.

She and her husband, James, have been married for eight years and live in Malvern. She has two kids, William Allen, 22, and Perry Allen, 17, a senior in high school. She said once her youngest graduates from high school, she plans to pursue a master’s degree.

“I love teaching,” she said. “That’s my passion.”

Newberry and her husband are both from Gurdon. James works in Little Rock, so after they got married, she was looking for a job that was still close to their hometown. That’s when she landed on the position in Sheridan.

“After applying for like 13 other jobs, I was hired here. Sheridan was the only one that called, and within a week, I was hired. It was God’s plan; this is where I was supposed to be,” she said.

“Jeri is a wonderful example of everything an elementary art educator should be, and she deserves recognition and this award for all of her hard work and dedication within the art-teaching profession,” Chastain said.

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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