I graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) with a Bachelors of Science in Art Education in 2008. Though I originally enrolled as a Marketing major, I quickly switched majors after taking an Art History class. After teaching Art for a few years, I decided to really focus my passion for artistic practice, so I went to art school. Going to art school was a goal I had aspired to achieve since I was in High School. I moved to Savannah, GA, and graduated with a Master in Fine Arts in Painting from Savannah College of Art and Design in November 2015.
Although many teachers and professors have had an impact on my growth in the field of education, I can credit Mr. Ciccone, my Art teacher at Plum High School as that inspiration. As a typical teenager going through various crises and phases during my high school years, I looked to art as a creative outlet and crucial form of expression. My voice was never stifled or censored in the Art room, and I was encouraged to not only build upon my skills as an artist, but also the importance of expression. Mr. Ciccone was a skilled artist himself, and he modeled being a practicing artist and educator-something I strive to achieve myself.
I had the idea in my head that art was not worth pursuing a career in, and more of a “hobbyist” kind of passion. I was following the guidance of many different people in my life when deciding my college and career path, leading to the decision to enroll at IUP as a Marketing major. When I was contemplating my shift in majors, he was one of the first people I talked with about it. He discussed his own career crossroads, and confidence in making the right decision being an art educator, for many reasons I have witnessed already throughout my own career.
I am a Visual Art educator for grades 9-12 at Propel Montour High School. Within Propel Schools, I have taught at four different buildings, spanning grades K-12. As a practicing artist, I have taught Summer programs and workshops specific to my work. I also teach Painting classes in the Community Education department at Community College of Allegheny County.
Honestly, it wasn’t until I returned to the classroom after completing grad school when I realized my true passion for education. I had always believed my real passion was for painting and aspiring to be a professional artist- like I was missing out on not going to Art School the first time. I realized that these two worlds could and SHOULD intersect, especially when teaching young adults and modeling what it means to be a practicing artist educator.
I am still in education because now more than ever, I see a critical need for the Arts as a fundamental part of the school curriculum. This is evident when I see my students express ideas on a canvas that cannot otherwise be said. When I hear the excitement in the voice of the first student receiving their passing AP Portfolio grade. When I get emails over the Summer presenting student work, asking for feedback. When a student says to me, “Mrs. Matia, I didn’t give up”. The Arts teach perseverance, allow authentic voice and expression, and allow our students to see themselves in their curriculum. I am proud and excited for the possibilities in this career.
I see a goal for equity in our discipline and behavior policy, although we still struggle with systems falling short in providing justice for our marginalized groups, particularly our students of color. Educators are left to grapple with decisions of consequences issued without a consistent understanding of restorative practices or communication of the policies throughout the school. Teachers and parents are rarely given the opportunity to question or be stakeholders in these policies, which can be problematic toward reaching these goals.
It is difficult to change these systemic policies, and I am fortunate to be in a district where the administration and educators are committed to the effort it takes to make those changes. Propel has shifted to a focus on restorative practices and a more intentional approach to incorporating social and emotional learning in our school communities. I think it is also important to acknowledge that this work is never done, and to always be critical of school wide policies, and with the willingness to change, seek multiple perspectives. I commit to change by constantly reflecting on my own practice, building relationships, and speaking up when I see injustice happening. These actions can help me to be more proactive and preventative when it comes to ensuring equity at my school.
I hope that my students will build confidence and agency through the Arts, and they will be able to carry that outside of my classroom to create positive change in their world. Whether they know it or not, I hope these skills are developed and nurtured in my classroom.