Emily Lopez became a resident of Charlotte, NC when she moved from Norwalk, CT in 2015 to become the Executive Director of Programs for the non-profit LilySarahGrace. Read how Emily and LSG are working hard at implementing Art and Creativity into Charlotte area schools.
Tell us about the non-profit LilySarahGrace. LilySarahGrace was founded by Matthew Badger and Abby Ballin, in honor of Matt's daughters Lily, Sarah, and Grace Badger, who died tragically in a fire on Christmas Day 2011. Matt and Abby worked to create an organization which would honor the impact the girls could have had during their time on earth.
All three girls and Matt were dyslexic and very talented in the arts. While school was very difficult for the girls, Grace had a phenomenally positive kindergarten experience in LSG founding educator Amie Schindel's classroom because she was allowed to use her artistic talents to learn, and "show what she knew."
Today, LilySarahGrace aims to inspire teachers to engage students by bringing the arts and creativity into everyday learning experiences to reach all learners. We've created a method called Arts-Infused Inquiry-Based Learning, or AIIBL, and we work side by side with teachers, first in a seminar, and then inside of their classrooms over time to help them infuse the arts across core subject areas, to give students a voice, choice, and meaningful connection to their learning. In addition to our professional development services, we provide grants to teachers in underfunded public elementary schools.
What is your educational background?
Until joining LSG full time, I have always been a progressive school-based educator. I started teaching elementary school at PS 173M in Washington Heights, NYC after getting my undergraduate degree in Elementary Education from the University of Vermont. It's funny, at the time, the reason I wanted to teach in NYC was to justify moving out of my mom's house to live in the city shortly after graduation. However, I quickly saw myself as an urban educator and began a graduate program in Organizational Leadership, at Teacher's College - Columbia University, with the intention of going into Public School Administration. I knew I wanted to have a greater impact on a school than from within the four walls of my classroom. In the 11 years I worked in inner city NYC schools, I saw what a difference creativity made in student engagement and how much more meaningful school could be when subjects were integrated and students had a say in their learning. In 2007 I left NYC to become principal of Columbus Magnet School in Norwalk, CT. Columbus is a Bank Street/HOT School - which integrates social studies and the arts in a hands- on manner to promote higher order thinking.
How did you get involved with LSG?
I first got involved in LSG when I met Matthew Badger, the co-founder of LilySarahGrace after whose daughters the organization is named. Matt visited me at Columbus Magnet School in Norwalk, CT in October 2012. At the time, Matt was looking to visit schools where great creative learning was taking place. On our first visit, we spoke for hours and I was able to give him the educational jargon & justification for what he knew, as a Dad, made sense. That day Matt asked me to join the Ed Council. Little did I know what a life- changing moment that would be for me.
Shortly after that first visit, Matt & Abby went on a bus tour around the country visiting classrooms of teachers who had been grant recipients. From there the original Ed Council members were found. Matt had a huge talent for bringing "the right group of people" together to create synergy.
Over the next six months, Matt and I got together a number of times. I was on maternity leave with my second child and was interested in "using my brain" to help a newly formed non-profit. By June of 2013, I was the chairperson of the LSG Ed Council and worked with this incredible group of dynamic educators from around the country to create the website content and elevate the level of the grant criteria for the organization. That first summer AIIBL was born. As a group, we committed to continuing to push forth the work of the organization and looked to expand our impact to benefit children in classrooms around the country.
My work on the Ed Council continued for the next three years, until July 2015 when I officially resigned my principalship and moved my family to Charlotte, to come on board full time with LSG and work to grow the Programs arm of the organization.
How is LSG currently impacting schools?
To date, LSG has worked with teachers and schools in Los Angeles, Houston, Greenville, Columbia, and of course Charlotte. Here in Charlotte, we've worked inside of six different elementary schools and have built a relationship with the Magnet Schools Department of CMS. Teachers participating in LSG PD report feeling re-energized and excited to implement new ideas with their students. Many have shared positive anecdotes of student engagement and behavior when utilizing an arts-infused method in their classroom.
Any affiliations in Charlotte?
Locally we are affiliated with UNC-Charlotte, ourBRIDGE for Kids, Arts & Science Council, and the Magnet Schools Department of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
How can the community support LSG?
LilySarahGrace is interested in connecting with schools and organizations interested in working with us as well as any businesses or foundations who would like to sponsor a professional development program or series for a school. We are also looking for participants in an upcoming focus group, on April 17th from 6-7:30 at Advent Coworking, who can help us take some of our next steps in terms of publicity, networking, and research. If you're interested in attending or speaking with us, please reach out to me at Emily@lilysarahgracefund.org. Lastly, we encourage everyone to like us on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram.