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Inspiring students with art, kindness

Karen Stonis teaches art to elementary school students, mentoring them inside school and out.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 7, 2003

The walls of Chiaramonte Elementary School boast a collection of elegantly framed artwork, a showcase of work created by local artists, all who receive their direction from the same mentor.

Her name is Karen Stonis, and for the students at Chiaramonte, she is responsible for bringing art to their fingertips. Under her encouragement, students add color to the school's walls.

Administrators at Chiaramonte say the students seem different since the addition of this enthusiastic teacher two years ago.

"She builds relationships with those kids," says office assistant Sherry Cornett. "And when they have relationships with you, they'll do anything you want them to."

To show their recognition and appreciation, the school nominated Stonis for the Drum Major Education Award. The award, given out each year by the Hillsborough County School Board, recognizes outstanding achievement in teachers who contribute both to their school and to the surrounding community.

Stonis was awarded first place in the elementary education category at the Jan. 27 School Board meeting.

A native of Miami and a resident of Tampa for the last five years, Stonis now makes her home in the South Tampa neighborhood of Bayshore Beautiful. She recently bought a condominium and says she cringes at the idea of moving locations or changing schools.

When not busy teaching her students the cross-cultural appeal of weaving or showing them how to weave their own creations, she spends her time mentoring children in different environments.

She recently took a third-grade girl who had never been to International Plaza on a window-shopping adventure. A year ago she took a group of boys to the Gold Dragon Gallery on Manhattan Avenue to view an exhibit of work by African-American artists.

When asked about her own artistic style, she quotes Pablo Picasso, who once said his goal in life was to paint like a child.

She is a teacher first, she says, one who reaches her students through art.

"With all the other pressures that come with being a kid today, art is a relief and a way for them to express themselves. Art is something they can be successful at."

As for her reaction to the award, she just smiles and says it was a very nice surprise.

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