Dunlap Elementary teacher works hard for the love of children and art

Donna Amira has accomplished quite a lot in her 26 years of classroom experience. The Dunlap Elementary School art teacher has worked with students at every level of the public school system from the primary grades to high school. Her students have won awards in art contests and had their pieces seen by children in Africa and Afghanistan. Additionally, she has worked with several area business and organizations to find the money to complete her student's art projects. Her most recent one is a peace and tolerance themed mural set for a spring 2006 unveiling. It's one of several completed over the years that has help establish her reputation as an outstanding teacher.

Birth of a teacher

A Franklin High School Graduate, Amira graduated from Central Washington State College, now Central Washington University, and received her master's degree from the University of Washington in education with an art focus.

Amira first began teaching full time in her own classroom at the now closed Lincoln High School. From there she moved to South Shore Middle School, which was housed where South Lake High School now exists. From South Shore she moved to Kimball Elementary on Beacon Hill for her first experience with elementary students.

After that it was back to middle school at Madison in West Seattle. Amira continued her middle school experience at Washington Middle School before moving to South Lake High School. Four years ago she made the move to Dunlap Elementary where the students and the community have felt her impact.

Amira has been nominated for several different awards including: the Alliance for Education A+ Award (six times), the KCTS-9 Golden Apple Award (three times), US West Outstanding Teacher, and the Disneyland Teacher Award. In 1996 she won the Alliance for Education A+ Partnership award. In 2003 Amira was one of only 20 art teachers nationwide to be selected a National Arts Initiative, Entertainment Industry Foundation, Mattel, and Rose Art Barbie Art Teacher of the Year Search Regional Winner. This last recognition also included a $5,000 cash award. The extremely generous Amira used the cash as seed money for a tile mural currently displayed on the outside wall near the entrance of Dunlap.

"That particular mural was quite costly to produce," explained Amira. "A new kiln was needed for the tiles, artists had to be paid, materials had to be purchased and the $5,000 award didn't quite cover all the costs."

That's when Amira put on her fundraising hat and went out seeking the money necessary to complete the project. She was garnered donations from various sources including Home Depot (who also sent volunteers to help with the project), the Rainier Rotary, the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington, Leadership Tomorrow, The Howard Kottler Trust and local donations to name a few.

Funds follow successes

To date, her fund raising efforts have gathered more than $76,000 of goods during her years in the classroom. This includes cash and supply donations, fund raising proceeds, and the various grants she has written individually, or with others, and won.

One reason she continues to acquire the funds necessary to complete her projects is the success her students enjoy outside the classroom. Over the years her students have won, or received honorable mention, at numerous art contests. Most recently, one of her Dunlap students, Michelle Pham, age 10, took first prize in the Neighbor Appreciation Day Student Art Contest while another Dunlap student was a finalist.

Additionally, 10-year-old Rossele Macabata won the Learn to Swim Poster Contest sponsored by the Seattle Parks Department while five other Dunlap students were part of the 10 finalists. Other contests her students have won include the Ackerley Billboard Competition, the 2000 Jacob Lawrence Scholarship, the Columbia Seafirst Center Art Contest, Anti-smoking art contests and several others. In a Mothers Against Drunk Driving art contest, three of her students shared first place.

One of the most impressive accomplishments of Amira's students was to have their art displayed around the world when the students participated in cultural art exchanges with children in both Africa and Afghanistan, the Seattle creations being delivered to children in these countries by volunteers. One of them was Dr. Marvin Taylor, who brought some of the art to Afghanistan, and Habitat for Humanity personnel helped deliver art to Africa. Her students have even had their work displayed in a museum in Sichuans Province in China.

"I'm able to get my students to think deeper about the theme," explained Amira when asked why her students have been so successful. "I ask them, 'how would you represent it visually? What colors would you use?' I give them the extra time and attention they need to be successful."

A mural of peace

Amira's current project is another mural, the fourth of her career. On a recent cold, rainy Saturday morning, three artists, Tokiyo Aomyama, Sean Mitchell, and newcomer Sarah Staples painted a colorful 6 by 24 mural featuring the faces of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Dalai Lama: four figures of peace, non-violence, and tolerance. These four portraits occupy the four corners of a colorful array of images honoring diversity in several forms. In the center is an Aztec style sun that ties it all together.

Aoyama and Mitchell, who have painted murals in the past, designed this one. In fact, Amira got the idea to ask for their talents after seeing their artwork at the wall of the Steel Pig Barbecue on Aurora Avenue North and North 98th Street.

Aoyama is from Akita, Japan, and came to Seattle about six years ago to study art. He and Mitchell met while students at the Art Institute of Seattle and have worked together for the past five years. Staples just began working with Aoyama and Mitchell in early January.

Most of the mural work has taken place during the lunch times at the school when students can see the process and ask questions while the artists worked.

"These kids were really excited. It's amazing the questions they'll ask and the comments they make," Mitchell revealed. "We just sit back and listen."

Money for the current mural was provided by Dirk Washington, one of Amira's former students, who now runs his own business in Seattle.

She contacted him about the project, and he quickly sent her a check: an illustration of the impact she has had on her students and the community, past and present.

When listening to Amira, you can see how much she loves talking about her students. Her pride for their accomplishments shines through when she displays their award winning pieces. She has even created a scroll documenting their achievements, which requires her to climb on a chair to display the 10-foot long list. The students on the scroll may have won individual awards, but it's clear that all students fortunate enough to have Amira as their art teacher are winners.

Richard Maltby may be contacted through editor@sdistrictjournal.com.[[In-content Ad]]