Southern High Art Teacher Michael Bell Wins Top Educator Award
Michael Bell has been a teacher at Southern High School in Harwood for 15 years. He went from a part-time teacher when he was first hired, to art department chair—his current position. An accomplished artist in his own right, he’s also done some pretty remarkable things during his tenure—especially when it comes to young artists and their prospects beyond high school.
This Thursday, Bell will head to New York City to accept the William U. Harris College Board Award. Accompanying him will be Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kevin Maxwell, Dr. George Arlotto, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Christopher Truffer, the director of school performance for the Southern cluster and Southern’s principal Marc Procaccini.
It’s a big deal.
Harris was head of the College Board, the non-profit agency responsible for testing, including implementation of Advanced Placement or AP testing* at high schools across the country. They also are the folks behind Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, college preparedness testing. Since 1900, the stated goal of the organization has been to expand access to higher education.
The Harris Award is given annually to individuals who have “demonstrated extraordinary leadership skills in the field of education.” Another Marylander was selected for the award in 2010— former Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick.
According to the College Board, to be nominated, individuals must:
- Have at least five years in his or her position of leadership in K-12 schools
- Have demonstrate in concrete ways a record of services to young people in preparing and inspiring and connection them to college and other post-secondary experiences
- Have demonstrated a genuine commitment to mentoring educational leaders and creating a supportive environment for them to develop and grow.
- Have the strength of character to be a change agent, a collaborative problem solver an a champion of equity.
The nominee must be involved in a school in the College Board Middle States Regional area, which is made up of the following states: Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvanie, Washington, DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Procaccini and Southern testing coordinator Deborah Curdtz put Bell’s nomination packet together. This is Procaccini’s first year as principal at Southern, although he previously served as an Assistant Principal at the school.
“His AP scores have been through the roof,” Procaccini said. “And the portfolios that his students produce are remarkable.”
Accepting the award will take Bell and the Anne Arundel County Public School crew to the borough of Brooklyn—a kind of homecoming for Bell, a son of the city. His art has showed in galleries around New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Bell has an intense presence. He usually dresses in all black with a gold chain around his neck or wrist. His full head of dark hair is slicked back. If someone told you he was the long-lost fifth Baldwin brother, it wouldn’t come as a shock.
He commands his room, but is at the same time very laid back. When a visitor comes in, the students are all busy on the task at hand. There’s no clowning around. Then, Bell emerges from behind one of the canvases. Quietly. Commandingly.
Bell’s interest in making Southern’s art program the success that it almost appears effortless. When he starts to talk about the program at Southern and the success of his students, you realize that he must spend a lot of his time dedicated to these young men and women.
His domain is his art room, and there he is making a real difference in the lives of his students. In 2012, art students in the graduating class at Southern managed to pick up $2,256,000 in scholarship money. In 2011, his art students earned $2,047,000 in scholarship offers. Overall, art scholarships at Southern make up about a third of scholarship dollars, Bells said.
In the past four years, four of his students have been named the National Arts Education Association NAEA Rising Star. This award goes to one student in the country. In early March, he’ll fly out to Texas to pick up the award with Rising Star winner Cat Allen of Dunkirk, the senior who won the award this year. During that time, he’ll also pick up the National Sponsor of the year award.
Bell is a champion of his students. He started a gifted and talented art program for students from around the county. The participants are 7th to 12th graders. They come to Southern on Saturdays and then for a week in the summer. He teaches them just like his high school students. Everyone journals. Bell has all his students start visual journaling. Students carry their journals/sketchbooks around all the time. Any art ideas, sketches, drawings and thoughts go down in the book.
It is a way to capture the creative energy of a student. Writing down a poem, a feeling, sketching something while you are looking at it and it is fresh is a great way to capture a moment in time. It’s a subtle way to get artists to “practice” art in all sorts of life situations and through all sorts of emotions.
By the time his art students are juniors and seniors, they have six, eight, even a dozen or more journals filled cover-to-cover.
Bell also has a knack for helping his students perform extraordinarily well on their AP Art portfolios, the final component of taking his AP art class. At Southern, Bell’s students can take AP art as a junior or senior. This year’s NAEA Rising Star Cat Allen put her AP art portfolio together as a junior. She scored a five. That’s the top score, and not easy to do as a senior, let alone an 11th grader.
There’s a lot more we could say about “Mr. Bell,” but we’ll just leave it at this: Congratulations!
* Students who take these AP courses can often get college credit for their efforts while in high school. These days it isn’t unusual for a high school graduate to enter college with enough credits to walk in the doors as a sophomore because of Advanced Placement classes.