North Elementary’s Cheesebrough Receives Arch Coal Achievement Award

Charleston, W. Va. (March 5, 2012) –Sonda Folk Cheesebrough’s earliest memories include drawing small creatures on her bedroom walls and coloring a brick bright red on her parents’ formal fireplace hearth. “Though they didn’t approve of these particular activities, Mom and Dad always nurtured my love of art and encouraged my creative spirit,” she notes.

After graduating from college, Cheesebrough began coursework in art education. Yet as the time to student teach got closer, she got nervous. “I had always been a bit shy. How could I stand in front of 25 staring, potentially misbehaving adolescents? I prepared, I practiced, and when I taught that first class you could hear a pin drop. They were listening!” Cheesebrough recalls. “As the days went on, I experienced something wonderful; something I would say was a calling. I just loved teaching, and I still do. For me, what started out as a passion for art became so much more.”

Today that passion culminated in yet another exciting experience. Cheesebrough was among only 12 teachers statewide to receive a 2012 Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award. Steven F. Leer, Arch Coal chairman and chief executive officer, made the announcement during an awards ceremony at the Clay Center. He was accompanied by West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) President Dale Lee.

“Being able to see the world through the eyes of her students is a strength Sonda Folk Cheesebrough discovered early on, an insight that helps her connect to them in a deeply personal way,” says Leer. “And even though she may not have time to sit and talk with each of the more than 700 students she sees weekly, Sonda strives to keep her group discussion engaging, so that students feel she is speaking to them personally.”

With 24 years as an educator, Cheesebrough teaches art to kindergarten through fifth-grade students at North Elementary, Morgantown. “The most important thing I tell my students is, ‘Feel free to think.’ There is no one right answer here,” she notes. “There are as many right answers as there are students. They each have a personal story to tell. Each one is important.

“This philosophy holds true with regard to students with special needs,” Cheesebrough adds. “What better place to excel than in the art room? Students with learning disabilities, autism and behavior disorders are allowed and encouraged to express their points of view.”

Cheesebrough earned a bachelor’s degree, a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and a master’s degree at West Virginia University (WVU). She also has achieved National Board Certification. As an active member of the West Virginia chapter of the National Art Education Association, serving as the W.Va. Elementary Division director, she attends meetings to advocate for the arts. Cheesebrough also attends and presents at state and national Art Education Association conferences. She coordinated the 2005 conference in Morgantown and was named WVAEA Art Educator of the Year for her service. Highlights included as keynote speaker national artist Isaiah Zagar, who created a large-scale mural with art teachers, children and community members at Dorsey’s Knob Park. Murals are now being created in other parts of the state based on this model. Cheesebrough was among 100 teachers invited to a forum on effective teaching at the White House. She has sponsored and chaperoned two student tours to Europe and serves as a cooperating teacher for student teachers from WVU. For the past 15 years, Cheesebrough has led public art projects in her community, working with children to create murals throughout Morgantown. She also has worked with her students to raise funds for the American Red Cross, create a mural for Ruby Children’s Hospital and to make signs from recycled lids to designate recycling drop-off points.

In addition to recognition, Teacher Achievement awardees receive a $3,500 unrestricted cash prize, a distinctive trophy and a classroom plaque. The West Virginia Foundation for the Improvement of Education, a foundation of WVEA, makes a $1,000 award to each recipient’s school for use with at-risk students.

The teacher recognition awards are underwritten by the Arch Coal Foundation and supported in program-promotion by the West Virginia Department of Education, the WVEA and the West Virginia Library Commission. The Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Awards is the longest running, privately sponsored teacher-recognition program in the state. Nominations are made by the public, and selection is made by a blue-ribbon panel of the teachers’ peers – previous recipients of the award.

The Arch Coal Foundation also supports teacher-recognition or grant programs in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, as well as a number of other education-related causes.

U.S.-based Arch Coal, Inc. (NYSE:ACI) is a top five global coal producer and marketer, and the most diversified American coal company, with  mining complexes across every major U.S. coal supply basin. In 2011, Arch continued to lead the U.S. coal industry in safety performance and environmental compliance among large, diversified producers. In West Virginia, Arch Coal subsidiaries operate mining complexes at Beckley; Buckhannon (Imperial); Cowen (Eastern); Grafton (Tygart); Holden (Coal-Mac); Morgantown (Patriot); Philippi (Sentinel); and Sharples (Mountain Laurel).