Creative Learning Center Director Cindy Simmons discusses her education career on Wednesday. Simmons has been director of the CLC since 2008. (Randal Seyler Photo)
Cindy Simmons is more than just an educator — she’s an advocate of the arts, and the moving force behind the Roswell Independent School District’s Creative Learning Center.
As director of the CLC, Simmons oversees a group of 10 teachers who spend their days traveling between the district’s 12 elementary and middle schools, bringing art education to Roswell’s children.
“We want our children to experience creativity and we want them to have an authentic artistic experience,” Simmons said.
To that end, the Creative Learning Center is part teaching lab, part art supply warehouse, and totally unique.
The mission of the Elementary Arts Integration Program, “Arts Connect,” is to enhance learning for students from kindergarten to the sixth grade and their teachers through opportunities for creative growth in dance, music, theater, and visual arts.
Ten certified teachers endorsed in performing arts and visual arts provide weekly 45-minute lessons to all the elementary school children as well as sixth-grade students, Simmons said. The CLC also provides numerous annual events to showcase the art and talent of its students.
The biggest annual event is the Celebrate the Arts Day, which is held at the Roswell Convention and Civic Center. This year, the event will be held on March 29.
The art teachers, whose home base is at the Creative Learning Center, travel to all elementary schools each week to bring their visual and performing arts lessons to all K-5 students.
Special arts experiences are planned during the school year for sixth- graders. The lessons are designed to not only meet the NM Arts Standards and Benchmarks, but to integrate Arts Concepts into the other core curriculum, Simmons said.
The art teachers return to the CLC to restock their supplies as well as to work on new art lessons, and Simmons is notably proud of the quality of supplies the CLC provides for the students.
“We use actual art supplies, we have quality paints and paper because we want the children to have an authentic arts experience,” Simmons said.
The CLC, and ultimately Simmons’ job as director of the CLC, came from the vision of one very insightful teacher.
“This program was really the vision of Elaine Howe,” Simmons said. “Elaine started experimenting with art and teaching through art over 10 years ago.”
Simmons was one of those teachers who took to the concept of “teaching through art” early on.
“If it wasn’t for the wonderful music and performing arts departments at Eastern New Mexico University, I never would have made it through college,” Simmons said. Simmons said she had anticipated a career as a musician and was planning on escaping Roswell, her hometown, as soon as possible. But her love of music and theater kept her in school.
Her mother was a teacher in Roswell, and Simmons said she never imagined that she would grow up to follow in her mother’s footsteps. “But when I stood in front of that first kindergarten class, that was it. I knew this was what I wanted to do,” Simmons recalled with a laugh.
Simmons has been a teacher and administrator in the Roswell school district for nearly 30 years, and came into the directorship of the CLC when that position came open in 2008.
“The director job for the Creative Learning Center was open, so I thought, ‘why not?’ I really believe that there is a higher power, and you wind up going where you’re supposed to be.”
When she was a young teacher, Howe’s experiments in teaching through art made an impact on Simmons that she never forgot. Now, she is overseeing a team of professionals who make “teaching through art” a daily reality for more than 5,000 children.
“It’s all about the ‘36 inches,’” Simmons said, referring to the height of a child. “Everything we do is about getting through to those children, and giving them the tools to be creative.”
Simmons credits Superintendent Tom Burris and the school board with keeping the arts program vibrant within the district.
“Mr. Burris is an artist himself, and he appreciates the importance of arts in education,” she said.
Gretchen Phillips, the CLC arts integration facilitator, said Simmons deserves some credit for the program’s success as well.
“Without Cindy, I don’t know that we could all keep going,” Phillips said. “She is a wonderful leader, and her enthusiasm is contagious.”