A local art teacher who once cried every single day during her first year now has the prestigious title of a PBS Digital Innovator.
Among 52 educators from across the U.S., Carmen Jenkins Frazier of School Without Walls High School in Northwest received recognition for her skillful approach to education and integrating digital media in the classroom in a way that sparks the interest of her students.
“I originally went to Hampton University to be a graphic designer,” Frazier said. “But after an internship at NASA I realized I didn’t want to be behind a desk all day. I always liked being around people, and I enjoyed school so, I said hey I’ll be an art teacher.”
After studying electronic studio art at Howard University for her masters, Frazier entered the D.C. Public Schools system in October 2001.
“That first year as a teacher was the most miserable year of my life. I think I cried every day,” she said. “I say that, but you learn that things aren’t always going to go smoothly.”
Growing up in Chicago, Frazier grew up in an urban environment attending public school, so she thought that she would be able to relate to the students.
“I thought, ‘this shouldn’t be hard. I can relate,’” she said. “But I could not, and it was especially challenging with no supplies. I remember being told digital art was too advanced for our students, but I didn’t accept that.”
By year five, Frazier felt she had a grasp on the functions of her workplace and began to push for supplies such as desktop computers to introduce her students to digital art.
Her innovative use of stop-motion animation — a technique that physically manipulates an object so that it appears to move on its own — in the classroom earned her national recognition.
“I had students use stop-motion animation to create a video that would tell a story that taught a lesson,” Frazier said. “In that process, the students learned so much.
“I also taught my 8th-grade students how to create a biographical portrait,” she said. “They had to research Americans they admired. Some students did a portrait of Michael Jackson, taking gloves, microphones and Grammys using Photoshop to create a biographical portrait.”
The 52 PBS Digital Innovators from around the country get to participate in ongoing professional development; share their ideas on PBS platforms; have access to resources from PBS LearningMedia; receive a free PBS Teacherline professional development course; and are invited to special events, including the 2017 PBS Digital Summit.
“We were struck by the creativity and passion of this year’s applicants,” said Sara Schapiro, PBS vice president of education. “The 2017 PBS Digital Innovators are a passionate group of educators who are committed to changing the way students learn through technology and digital media.”
As part of her prize, Frazier looks forward to attending the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in June.
“I think I was selected because I’m passionate about what I do,” she said. “It’s an honor to be selected and acknowledged. I don’t do the work for recognition. I do it because I know art and the arts helps students share themselves.”