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Principal recognized for efforts to keep the arts alive

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Tashon McKeithan, the principal of P.S. 65 Mother Hale Academy on East 141th Street, has received a prestigious Janklow Award for her devotion to teaching about the arts.

The award comes from ArtsConnection, a citywide organization that works with educators to bring arts projects and creative programs into public school classrooms. The company operates out of midtown but helps hook up artists with teachers and spark new programs in schools all over the city’s five boroughs.

Carol Morgan, ArtsConnection’s deputy director for education, said that ArtsConnection has been working with McKeithan for more than ten years, from the time when she was a third grade teacher at P.S. 53. The organization sends artists into the public schools to work with teachers and students, and McKeithan chose to work with dancers and storytellers in her classes. In 2001, when ArtsConnection received a grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education, McKeithan partnered with them again in a program that explored the link between the arts and student literacy.

“She’s extraordinary,” raved Morgan. “She is innovative and creative. When she was a third grade teacher she painted the walls of her classroom a Chinese red, and then she and her students engaged in an inquiry that year about What is Art?” Morgan notes that some of McKeithan’s efforts to integrate the creative arts with more traditional curriculum subjects have been different from anything ArtsConnection has seen other teachers try doing in classrooms.

Now that McKeithan is principal at P.S. 65, the school has a new dance program as well as a music program in which kids in upper grades are learning to play steel drums and participate in a larger school band, also a relatively new venture.

Morgan said that ArtsConnection felt the time had come to honor McKeithan because “she’s not only a real believer in the arts, she also really understands how the arts build intelligence.”

McKeithan said that working with ArtsConnection since before she was ever a principal has allowed her to do innovative things with them and push her students further.

McKeithan said that she feels honored by the award, but admitted: “It’s interesting to get an award for doing your job, that’s how I see it, just doing my job. I’m passionate about teaching the arts and it’s something I’ll continue to do. I don’t really need an award to do it, but it’s nice to be recognized.”

This humility and calm attitude are the same qualities that, ironically, ArtsConnection Director of Programs Carol Rice pointed to specifically. “She stays utterly calm as she attends to the myriad of challenges in the day-to-day life of a school principal.”

ArtsConnection will officially bestow McKeithan with the award on May 6 at its 30th anniversary celebration, which CNN’s Anderson Cooper will host. The other recipient of the Janklow Award will be teaching artist and puppetry performer Erin Orr.

Reach Daniel Roberts at (718) 742-3383 or droberts@cnglocal.com

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