FLEMING ISLAND – During this month’s school board meeting, School Board Chairwoman Ashley Gilhousen cut the red ribbon to formally introduce the student art gallery wall, which will feature …
FLEMING ISLAND – During this month’s school board meeting, School Board Chairwoman Ashley Gilhousen cut the red ribbon to formally introduce the student art gallery wall, which will feature student-crafted visual artworks throughout the year.
It was a ceremony that also symbolized the continued commitment of the school board to support fine arts programs throughout the county.
“Together, we’re creating an environment where creativity, dedication, and excellence are celebrated. Thank you for being an integral part of your students’ artistic journey,” said Christopher Gugel, the Fine Arts Specialist for the school district.
As a fine arts specialist, Gugel has been instrumental in fostering music, art and theater programs throughout the school district. He helped coordinate curriculum, fostered a sense of community among fine arts teachers, was a positive presence in the classroom and was able to reel in a $1.2 million state-funded grant to support music education in elementary schools.
His efforts were unanimously praised during the school board meeting by fine arts teachers across the school district.
“Hearing earlier that there is a $1.2 million grant award – that is amazing. (Also amazing,) are the many other things Mr. Gugel has done to help advocate for the fine arts teachers,” said Justin Coker, a band director at Keystone Heights Junior/Senior High
“I see this as a huge positive for our county. There’s so many things he’s done this year and I am truly excited to see what is coming forth in the future,” said Coker.
An art teacher at Lakeside Junior High shared how Gugel has helped. She said Gugel fostered a sense of community in the fine arts community, met with teachers to discuss new art programs, been a resource for lesson planning, checked in and offered help, and made art teachers feel appreciated.
“We can’t wait for the opportunities and advancements he has in store for us,” she said.
“In my nine years since coming from Leon County, this is the most support I have seen – financially and hands-on in the schools. I’m very appreciative,” said a band director of Orange Park High.
“He’s secured funding which is difficult for music educators who are working 14, 15, 16-hour days to keep their programs alive and marching on the field,” he said.
“In my 22 years in Clay County schools. I’ve seen support for the fine arts only grow. My first year in the county, I was very nearly cut (due to budget cuts), and unfortunately, that was not the last time,” said a music teacher at Oakleaf Village Elementary.
“(In recent years), we have felt very secure, and I no longer have to hold my breath when allocations come out. We know we are supported. There is music in every school,” she said.
“It’s wonderful to work with theater teachers in Clay County. He’s been super supportive. He’s been in our classrooms. It’s been a wonderful experience. For the first time, we’ve had an All County for theater, which was amazing. Our students can see that. And that is important to them,” said a theater director of Ridgeview High.
Gugel overflowed with emotion during the meeting.
“It was incredible to hear things we accomplished. Seeing fine arts teachers from all disciplines – I was overwhelmed with joy and pride,” Gugel said.
“I am reminded every day I am in the classroom why I am here in Clay County. But to see that made me proud, seeing the teachers be advocates for their students’ artistic journeys,” he said.
The $1.2 million grant will allow elementary school music teachers to strengthen and expand their programs, he said. The grant will allow the purchasing of new instruments – like Orff instruments, which are like xylophones – new sheet music and supplies. The grant will fund field trips – such as the one planned for the Jax Symphony – curriculum resources and professional development for teachers.