We are pleased to announce that Sherri Pekks has been promoted to Arts Together’s full-time staff as Lead Multi-Arts Preschool Teacher and Assistant Summer Camp Coordinator! Sherri has been an integral member of our preschool faculty for over five years but has more than 10 years teaching experience. She holds an Associate of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of North Florida and has taught at preschools in both Jacksonville, Florida and Raleigh before working at Arts Together.
Sherri is skilled in both theater and art, and in her new role will continue to teach drama in the preschool program and lead summer camps in art, theater and multi-arts, in addition to supporting our Director of Preschool and Summer Programs in administrative tasks for the preschool and summer camps. Sherri will also coordinate our popular Counselor-In-Training program. Her new responsibilities officially began on August 20.
Many of you know Sherri, but we wanted to give her a proper introduction. Read on for Sherri’s reflections on teaching preschoolers and her creative journey in theater and art, plus how Arts Together helped turn her into a Harry Potter fan! Her love for gardening and animals (her family includes two dogs, two cats, two love birds, seven chickens and one bearded dragon!) also shapes her identity.
What inspired you to become a preschool teacher?
When I received my Associate of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education, I continued on as an English major, because at the time, I wanted to teach high school literature. When it was time for my internship, I was placed in a 7th grade English class at an inner-city school. The experience was scary and eye opening; I wasn’t ready. I completed the internship, but my eagerness to be a high school educator had faltered. In an attempt to compromise, I switched my English major to Elementary Education.
I soon married and began a family. When my first daughter Paisley was one-year-old, I was offered an opportunity to teach preschool and bring her with me. It worked out well, so after my second daughter Opal was born and a two-year attempt as a stay-at-home mom, I continued teaching preschool to be with my children. I thought I would age up and follow the girls to elementary school, but it was obvious early on that I had found my fit. I’ve been teaching preschool for more than 10 years now, and I still feel challenged, excited and confident in my decision.
You primarily lead drama classes at Arts Together but have also taught art related projects too. What’s your personal journey been like in these creative outlets?
In high school and early college, I was very active in theater, participating in a variety of shows and competitions. As adult responsibilities caught up with me, I was unable to balance it all and stopped performing. Other than my many cameos in preschool productions, I haven’t been back on stage. I tried searching for other creative outlets but nothing stuck.
Eleven years ago, when we moved to North Carolina from Florida, I took a beginner stained-glass class in hopes of making new friends and having some “me time.” I didn’t know how much that hands-on art form would change me. I became a proficient stained-glass artist and then felt a strong desire to paint. I started painting these big-eyed, weird and whimsical faces, which led to many intense, and sometimes heartbreaking, pieces based on the drama of everyday life. Being able to tap into another realm of myself has been a strong catalyst for my versatility in both drama and visual art. Many times, you can’t have one without the other; they’re perfect companions.
Why do you love teaching drama to three-to-five-year-olds?
For some kids, performing is second nature, especially at this age when they’re still so uninhibited. Their participation is enthusiastic and imaginative, but for other children, drama class can be a struggle. These preschoolers are quite reserved, and watching them evolve is really something special. Slowly, they begin to see drama class as a safe and nonjudgmental space, becoming liberated as the school year progresses. I quietly rejoice inside when their hand shoots up after I ask “Who would like to go first?” Each personal hurdle they overcome adds another brick to their foundation of self-confidence. I am so thankful for the opportunity to be part of that process.
Can you share a favorite moment you’ve experienced with your preschoolers?
I have a chicken coop, and this past spring, I was able to give one of my broody chickens, Big Mama, 12 fertilized eggs to sit on in hopes of baby chicks. In class, we counted down the days and kept our fingers crossed. I shared many photos and stories of what was happening in my coop, because two other hens, Little Bantam and Lady Leghorn, had decided to help Big Mama with her mothering duties. At one point, they were all three sitting on the eggs. Talk about some serious chicken drama! Twenty-three days into the incubation, three chicks hatched. We were all so excited! I honestly couldn’t believe it, since I had tried to hatch eggs the year before with no success. It was very cool to share that experience with the kids.
You’re a big Harry Potter fan, but I never realized Arts Together played a role in this. Can you explain?
I would never guess that I’d be known for an obsessive love of a fantasy-based, children/young adult book series. Last year, I was asked to help out with our upcoming summer camp Wizard World. Since wizarding wasn’t my thing, I needed persuading and reluctantly agreed. I began my “research” for the camp by binge watching all the Harry Potter movies. I was instantly hooked. I then read the entire series while re-watching each movie after I finished each book. To round it out, I even listened to the audiobook versions. What can I say? The magic is real, y’all!
Beyond your love of theater, art and Harry Potter, I hear you have quite the green thumb!
Yes, gardening is a big part of my life. I’m most content when I’m in my yard. I try to practice a sustainable system in which everything serves a productive purpose. I have compost bins and towers, rain barrels, a chicken coop, worm bins, fruit trees, bushes and vines, veggies, herbs, and ornamental and pollinator friendly flowers. I like how the different parts support one another to complete the big picture of my outdoor space. Nature never fails to amaze me.
What are ways you cultivate your own creativity outside of Arts Together?
I love to piddle. There is nothing better to spark ideas or allow my imagination to flow than just aimlessly wandering around the comforts of my home and yard. In the time it takes me to pick up fallen sticks or relocate a stack of bricks, I’ll have problem solved whatever obstacle I’m trying to work through. I also seek out the quiet to ponder and reflect. Being a preschool teacher and having an extremely loud house with two teenage girls and a range of needy animals, those moments are precious.
Thank you, Sherri, for allowing us to get to know you and your passions better. You bring so many unique gifts to Arts Together!
Kari Martin Hollinger, Communications & Development Associate
Photos courtesy Sherri Pekks and Arts Together.