By Bernie Petit
Leslie Craven grew up in the cultural sector.
She participated in camps and helped usher at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, where her mother Kathy Craven retired in 2005, and enrolled in Suzuki music lessons at the age of four at Community School of the Arts.
She took piano lessons in her neighborhood, joined the school band at Sharon Elementary and later played in the Myers Park High School orchestra and the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra.
The experiences gave her “a sense of normalcy that artistic expression is a big part of being a complete person,” she said.
She wants her band students at Central Academy of Technology & Arts in Union County to feel the same way. Her dedication to ensuring they leave her class as musically literate individuals that appreciate the arts is why she is one of six teachers from across the greater Charlotte region to be named 2014 Cato Excellence in Teaching Award winners.
The Cato Award honors teachers who have distinguished themselves in teaching art, science or history, or who have creatively infused art, science or history into the core curriculum.
A longtime band instructor, Craven’s philosophy is that music is for every child, music is a vehicle to teach the whole child and the music classroom is a community.
“My philosophy is very much one of a mentor,” she said. “I’m shaping the environment where the learning can happen and creativity can thrive.”
Over the years, she has set herself apart by providing differentiated instruction – along with lots of encouragement – while preparing middle and high school students to excel in concert bands, athletic bands, small ensembles and orchestras.
“It’s the aesthetic experience of creating something that’s bigger than one single person that you can share with others,” she said. “Once (students) feel that, just like in the case of me, they’re hooked.
“They may continue to play, they may just become consumers of music, or they may teach, but they can continue to get that aesthetic nourishment their entire life.”
It’s something she not only teaches, but practices as well. Craven, a clarinet player by trade, and four other Union County band instructors got together several years and formed Quintessence, a woodwind quintet that performs in the greater Charlotte area.
They started out playing for fun, but soon began performing at community functions and at local churches. They now tour about five middle and high schools each spring to perform and give a musical history presentation, making her an active contributor to the cultural sector.
It makes a difference in the classroom, she said. And it can also be traced back to the time she spent behind the scenes at Children’s Theatre and the sense of community through the arts she first experienced at Community School of the Arts.
“I think that definitely impacted my love for the arts and the way I teach,” she said. “It taught me to embrace my creativity.”
2014 Cato Award Winners
Leslie Craven, Central Academy of Technology & Arts, Union County.
Pamela Freedy, Sharon Elementary/Charlotte Preparatory School, Mecklenburg County.
Darlene Petranick, Lebanon Road Elementary, Mecklenburg County.
Bianca Yavelak, Ashbrook High School, Gaston County.
Megan Luzader, Ranson Middle School, Mecklenburg County.
Ann Jacob, New Town Elementary, Union County.