WINNABOW, NC (WWAY) — One Brunswick County art teacher draws upon her experience working at the “happiest place on Earth” to inspire students.
This week, WWAY recognized Raine Morgan, known to her students as “Miss J,” as our Teacher of the Week.
This is Miss J’s fourth year teaching kindergarten thru fifth grade students at Town Creek Elementary School in Winnabow.
“I love them because they’re always so excited to come to school,” she said. “You get hugs every day, you know they love you.”
During her 19-year teaching career, Miss J has taught elementary, middle and high school students, but this East Carolina University graduate never pictured herself as an art teacher.
“I worked at Disney for a number of years and I was a character,” she said.
But she wasn’t any ‘ole character.
“I was the mouse–Mickey Mouse and Minnie,” she said.
Working inside a padded costume during those long, hot Orlando summers were exhausting.
“It was fun and I really loved the kids,” she said “I was talking to a friend and said, ‘You know, I really want to get back to doing something with my degree.’ It was a great opportunity to work at Disney and I didn’t want to pass that up, but I wanted to do something closer to my work, I love art, and they go, ‘Well, why don’t you look at teaching?'”
She then earned a teaching certificate from the University of Central Florida and that jumpstarted her career as an art teacher.
“I think a lot of them, at home, might only have a thing of crayons, so I like to show them the different type of media,” she said.
Sometimes the art students create takes on special meaning. Recently, an organization assisting Hurricane Florence victims reached out to Miss J.
“She just wanted the kids to make cards. Really simple. So I had all my kids come in. I had some really easy directions on the board like support, we love you, we’re thinking of you, we’re sorry you lost your home, things like that, we made cards and then delivered them to Goodworks,” and she added, “When they would go out to these neighborhoods that were completely decimated, they would hand the cards out and it really meant a lot to them.”
For some of Miss J’s students, the assignment took on special meaning.
“We had kids here that lost their homes and are still, not living in them,” she said. “So they said, ‘Miss. J, I don’t know what to write because I lost my home too’ and I said ‘What would make you feel better? What would cheer you up now that you’re not living in your place but soon will be?’ So even those cards were really sincere and came from the heart.”
Just as she’s done throughout her career, Miss J used art as a teachable moment.
“I showed them pictures of people living in tents and its cold and I don’t think the kids realized people were doing that, and they said ‘Wow, that’s awful.’ So, they expressed that love and created positive energy and we sent it to somebody else that really needs it and I think it really showed them, especially this time of the year, that they really need to be thankful for what they have and I think a lot of times we forget that,” she said.
In less than a week, the kids created more than 350 cards.
So why does art education matter?
“Art is a way for these kids to be creative in a totally different way and to lose themselves in something fun and positive,” she said.
Not to mention, boost academic performance.
“Its been proven that test scores go up when a child is exposed to music, art and physical education,” she said. “When people start sucking those things away, I think you’re sucking the life out of these kids.”
Arts education is a big priority to Town Creek Elementary School Principal Walker Cates.
“She [Miss J] is able to incorporate an artistic side that allows them to maybe express themselves in way they cannot,” Cates said. “This meets children sometimes at a different place where maybe they’re not so good at academics. Maybe this is why they come to school everyday. You have to seek the way to meet the child where they are. You can’t force a square into a circle.”
Cates also told us something we didn’t know about Miss J.
“Miss J. does intervention support in the afternoon for the students with reading and math,” Cates said. “So she really gets to take a more artistic side to present that material and maybe they learn it better from somebody who presents it to them like that.”
When we asked how it felt to be selected as WWAY’s Teacher of the Week sponsored by Mattress & Furniture Liquidators, Miss J got a little emotional.
“Its such and honor, I can’t express what it means that someone nominated me,” she said. “It means a lot because a lot of times teachers, we feel we’re alone, I knew I was going to do this, it feels nice to have support and the other teachers here we support each other and that’s really important.”
Miss J said random hugs from her students makes each day worthwhile.
“I tell other people, you don’t go to work and get hugs–I get hugs,” she said. “When you’re having a hard week and that morning you get those hugs, it just completely elevates you and the kids here are really special and I really love each and every one of them.
While she no longer portrays that lovable character we’ve come to adore, we can see the impact Miss J is making and that makes her really special, too.