Two Lake Nona teachers, Darlene Grande of Eagle Creek Elementary and Gail Chase of Lake Nona High, were awarded the prestigious Grand Bohemian Excellence in Arts Award. Chase, second-time winner of this award, teaches theater. Grande teaches general music, K-5, and plans to use her scholarship to visit Austria and see the birthplace of Mozart and the Sound of Music tour.
The award is sponsored by Richard Kessler, a local hotel entrepreneur and owner of Orlando’s Grand Bohemian Hotel. The scholarship helps five arts teachers each year to further their passion by awarding them with two complimentary nights at the Grand Bohemian Hotel and $1,500.
Both teachers spoke to Nonahood News about their experience winning the award.
Nonahood News: Do you want to tell me a little about what it’s like to teach high school theater?
Gail Chase: It’s a fun and wild ride every single day. It’s getting to know my students who stick around with me for four years and become a part of my family. It’s problem-solving and adapting and creating something that we all believe in every day. It’s awesome.
NHN: How did you find out about the scholarship?
GC: This is actually the second time that I’ve won it. The last time was – I think – 11 years ago. It’s advertised to arts teachers in Orange County, so the research teacher of the county for theater and dance sent out an email saying that it’s time to apply for the scholarship. It’s been on my radar for a long time because the first time I won it was such a surprise, and when you’re a winner, you’re invited to a luncheon every year for past recipients. Every year, I look forward to going to the luncheon and seeing the presentations because they’re really beautiful and such a nice way to honor arts educators.
NHN: And part of your application was a written narrative?
GC: Correct. We had to fill out an application, and then there’s a two-page essay that asks seven questions. You have to answer the questions in the essay.
NHN: Do you want to tell me a little about what you wrote in yours?
GC: They ask questions like, “What is your philosophy of education?” and “How do you run your classroom?” and I believe that, in a theater classroom, especially, it should be a very collaborative space. It should not be an expert talking at the front of the room who just talks while everybody else just listens. It’s definitely a more interactive space where we’re constantly giving and receiving feedback.
The students are equal in the classroom with me, and I always try to put myself in the space of “learner” so that I can also receive feedback from them and so they know their voice is valid and valued. It’s very important to me that my students feel safe in my classroom and in the theater, so I work really hard to create an environment of family and a culture of understanding and respect. I don’t think that’s something that sets me apart from the other teachers at LNHS because I think that I work at a really outstanding school. But, it’s not the way that I was taught. I was taught in that sort of old-fashioned way of quietly listening and taking notes. And that was just never an effective model for me.
I just wanted to thank [Mr. Richard Kessler] because he believes in arts education and continues to provide this scholarship. He gives out five awards every year and continues to invite arts teachers back to this beautiful event. I just think he’s a model for philanthropy in our community.
Nonahood News: How did you win this scholarship? What is the selection process like?
DG: I had to submit a narrative that describes my music program, and once I sent that in, it’s a process of them reading all the essays that were sent through. [OCPS] notified me that I was a finalist, along with Justin Chase and Gail Chase [of LNHS].
NHN: What was your narrative about?
DG: Basically, I told them – and this is what they used in their speech when I won the award – that I wanted my students to leave their legacy through the fine arts. That I wanted them to tell their story through music. I can actually read some of it to you.
“I want my students to have a respect for learning technique and the process that it takes to become a great musician, such as rehearsals, the art of practicing, and stepping outside of their comfort zone in order to strive for achieving greatness in a creative world.
“I also want to give what my former music teacher gave to me, which is confidence, musicality, passion, and creativity.”