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Art teacher wins statewide award

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POINT: Brenda Betley gives tips to sixth-graders Owen Follis and Parker Hill in her classroom.
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LOOK: Brenda Betley looks over sixth-grader Brenna Cady’s colorwheel paper while working with watercolor pencils.

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@h-ponline.com

After only 3½ years of demonstrating excellence in and out of the classroom, a Huntington Community Schools teacher has received a statewide award recognizing her work as an art teacher.

On Nov. 3, Brenda Betley, an art teacher at Riverview Middle School, was awarded with the Outstanding Middle School Art Educator of Indiana, given by the Art Education Association of Indiana (AEAI) after being nominated by her peers.

Now in the fourth year of her fourth career, Betley explained she’s an “old new teacher” at the age of 58. Her journey post college graduation has taken her through a career in sales, nonprofit and owning her own business before bringing her to teaching.

Riverview Principal James Bragg explained that the careers Betley pursued prior to becoming an art educator have given her success not only within her own classroom, but the whole school, as she continues to challenge people to expand their ways of thinking.

“She is a good addition and part of that is because she has not been a teacher all of her life. She’s been involved in different aspects of business and has that ability now to be able to work in a field that she’s passionate about,” Bragg said, “and she brings those experiences from the business world into the school.”

Even though she was aware of her nomination, Betley explained that she was quite surprised when she found out she had received the award, especially since she’s just starting out as a teacher.

“I was pretty shocked since this is only my fourth year teaching … it’s the state of Indiana, I didn’t think there was any chance I would get it. It’s pretty cool.”

Bragg explained that Betley is deserving of the award for multiple reasons. Firstly, he said she is a reflective teacher and keeps her students’ interest and participation in mind.

“She has ideas of what she would like to be able to accomplish in the classroom, but then is always making some tweaks if things aren’t as successful as she anticipated,” he said. “She looks at what she does, she looks at how to best communicate with the students and get the students involved and it’s because of that, that she experiences a lot of success in the classroom.”

Bragg added that Betley works hard to keep students engaged in what they’re doing as well. He explained that he’s been in her classroom and has heard students express that they didn’t know what to do for a project and to help, Betley asked questions of reflection to get the student thinking about their personal interests.

“She wants the students to be engaged, she wants them to be independent thinkers,” he said. “So she’s constantly working on that student engagement, the student involvement, being accountable for themselves and teaching them that independence as well.”

Betley said the freedom she allows her students to have in the classroom requires them to think, plan, brainstorm, create and reflect – skills that she said are involved in any type of job.

“Even a manufacturing job. If you’re in a manufacturing job and you can think of a better way to do something, do you think you’re going to stay at a low level? No, you’ll be promoted,” she said. “I think the arts are one of the few places you can really help students understand how everything fits together.”

Within her classroom and the activities and projects they work on, she said she tries to challenge her students to make observations and to strive to do their best work.

Betley said even though an eighth of her students will end up pursuing art, she believes art is still important for all of them to learn about, as it not only makes them more well-rounded, but teaches them important life lessons and independent thinking.

“To look, to see, to slow down. That’s what I try to teach them,” she said. “I believe that art is integral to all kinds of things in life.”