The Alaska Arts Education Consortium is extremely pleased to announce the 2021 Champions of Arts in Education.  Below you will find the Student, Teacher and Advocate awardees:

2021 AAEC Student Champion 

Ryann Esteban

Port Graham School, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District

Ryann Esteban is in her junior year at Port Graham School.  A well-rounded artist who works with a variety of mediums, Ryann often connects her artistic explorations and creations to her Sugpiaq culture.  Topics of social justice, human rights, and community connections often are woven into her artwork, bringing awareness to her issue of focus.

Selina Mach, Social Counselor with Project GRAD, praises how Ryann encourages the artistry of others while refining her own artistic growth.  “Ryann is someone whose presence is felt at the very moment you walk into the classroom. She is kind, confident, and brings a good attitude and sense of humor to everything that she does. A talented and dedicated art student, she is also a leader of arts education within her community.

In December, Ryann helped to lead her peers in the creation of handmade dreamcatchers as part of a suicide prevention program. In collaboration with two other high school students, Ryann led the 5th through 12th grade students in creating their own personalized dreamcatchers as a way to identify their hopes, goals, and dreams for the future. While working with the younger students, Ryann consistently acts as a positive role model, demonstrating patience, kindness, and strong leadership skills.”

The award’s selection panel was particularly impressed by Esteban’s recent piece “No More Lost Sisters”.  Created to raise awareness about the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, the piece uses powerful imagery and text to generate a wearable call to action.  In describing the piece Mach notes, “As an Alaska Native young woman, this piece showcases not only Ryann’s strength and resilience, but also her willingness to be vulnerable through her artwork. While I find her artwork to be quite breathtaking, it is Ryann’s ongoing commitment to highlighting her cultural traditions and human rights issues through her artwork that is truly inspiring.”

Congratulations to Ryann!


2021 AAEC Educator Champion 

 Giselle Miller

Haines Borough School District

 Giselle Miller teaches art to students from kindergarten through 12th grade in Haines.  The artwork she creates with students is found throughout the school building as well as in the community, with art shared in online shows, on social media, and featured at town events.

In her nomination essay, Tiana Perry-Traudt lauds the love and enthusiasm which imbue Miller’s work with the students of Haines.  “Giselle has made a positive impact on our entire community.    Since Covid, Giselle has created online art shows to share student work. She has worked tirelessly to help high school students create and market their art pieces.  She has led by example and showcased her art during First Fridays in Haines.  She is one of the first to jump in and help out whenever the need arises.  The artwork displayed in our school is amazing and a tribute to her.  Giselle is an amazing teacher and artist and the students (and staff)  in Haines love her.”

Of special recognition is the arts outreach Miller organized after December’s devastating landslides in Haines.  With the loss of Kindergarten teacher Jenae Larson and community member David Simmons, Miller led all of the community’s students in creating origami tributes.  Displays of 1,000 origami cranes and butterflies were made, with Miller leading students in folding, assembling, and showcasing their paper remembrances.  In addition, prints from art made by Miller have been sold to raise funds for those affected by the disaster.

Congratulations to Giselle!


The 2021 AAEC Advocate Champion 

 Aaron Freeman

Hogarth Kingeekuk Sr. Memorial School, Savoonga, Bering Strait School District

 Aaron Freeman is in his fifth year teaching art to students from kindergarten through 12th grade in Savoonga.  Throughout his time at Hogarth Kingeekuk Sr. Memorial School, Freeman has expanded arts access for each student.  He strives to offer opportunities for rich cultural and fine arts instruction, both during and beyond the school day.

Staff and students praise Freeman’s creative efforts to meet the artistic needs of their learning community.  Prior to the pandemic, Freeman created an after school Art Club to increase the amount of arts instruction available to Middle School students during the school week.

Now, he arranges art shows within Savoonga, as well as events with local and visiting artists, adapting to virtual visits with COVID-19 protocols.  This versatility in Freeman’s programming was highlighted by Brianna (Blatchford) Wheeler, Itinerant Arts Facilitator for the Bering Strait School District.  “When schools first closed, he sent home packets with assignments and alternate assignments, encouraging students to engage in arts at whatever level best suited them. He also quickly transitioned online last spring, creating a Facebook group for the whole community to participate in art prompts and share whatever work they are creating.  This school year, he continued to make his assignments and instruction flexible, ensuring students had the tools they needed to work from home when the school closed and opening his classroom to as much student access as possible when the school was open.”

“Aaron is a kind person who nurtures talent in students who often struggle with behavior and academics in core classes.  As a result of being in Aaron’s art class, our students have transitioned from giving up easily and not believing in themselves to believing in themselves and their power to grow their own skills,” writes Kirstin Klebanski, a former teacher at Hogarth Kingeekuk Sr. Memorial School who coordinated Freeman’s nomination.

This support of emotional and mental health through the arts was echoed in the many stories of Freeman’s work submitted by colleagues, administrators, and students.  Testimonials spoke of students processing loss and disruptions and finding their voices and healthy outlets with Freeman’s guidance.  25 middle and high school students added statements of support to the nomination materials for Freeman.  One of the school’s 2019-2020 seniors shared, “I learned a lot of amazing, cool, and awesome Art stuff. Aaron taught me a diverse range of skills in creating visuals, representing the author’s imagination, conceptual ideas, or technical skills intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power. Art has given me a sense of hope, self-worth, and well-being, it improves our sense of confidence and widens our social networks and decreases depression and anxiety and reduces stress. I think Aaron is a Champion of the Arts in Education because he has extreme confidence, believes in their capabilities, and knows what they can do, willingness to teach art, takes extraordinary interest in implementation and success of art projects.”

Congratulations to Aaron!