Teachers are the backbone of the American education system. All other contributing factors aside, a good teacher impacts a student’s life well beyond the classroom. The Eastern Panhandle has its share of good teachers, and it is certain that Elaine Unnone is among those ranks. Unnone is the visual arts teacher and fine arts department chair for Martinsburg High School. As such, she is not only involved in the day-to-day activities commonly associated with an educator’s role.
She is also heavily involved in guiding overarching programming and curriculum development. From finding grant funding to secure new technologies needed for visual arts lessons to assisting students with art show submissions, Unnone’s impact on the lives of individual students is tremendous. In terms of career accomplishments, that type of involvement is a particular point of pride for her.
“I am very proud of the grants I have written for my schools and the students,” she explains. “It started at Tuscarora Elementary School with the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, a federally funded grant for schools in poor disadvantaged areas.” Through this grant, she was able to secure computers, printers, laptops, LCD projectors, and other component parts of a technology system that allows educators to integrate technology into their daily lessons. “I have written many grants along the way and love to see the results at each school.”
While Unnone wants to make sure classrooms are equipped to meet desired outcomes (particularly outcomes that help prepare students for opportunities that reside in the times beyond graduation), she is equally committed to developing avenues for students to grow into leadership roles that help them mature academically through their innate talents. Her commitment has led to an initiative encouraging young leaders to participate in activities that foster their talents.
“I am also very proud of introducing a new Leadership program at Martinsburg High School,” she says. “My mission with my class was to have the students gain the skills necessary to become successful leaders while in high school and as they transition into higher education, the armed services, or the workplace. Along the way I try to instill a sense of community and school service. Students are responsible for conducting a service project that enlists the help of their classmates and peers… But the best thing about this class is the students themselves! They have all graduated and are involved and accomplishing so much at college, in their jobs, and in the armed services.”
In the past three years, Martinsburg High School students have been involved in projects to support or raise funds for the Berkeley County Relay for Life, the United Way Day of Caring, the United Way Mega Food Drive, a Rotary sponsored- Little Lending Library program, and Alex’s Lemonade Stand. They have also been involved in efforts to send holiday cards to Marines around the world, collect clothing for those who may otherwise go cold during the winter months, and support programs that feed the homeless at a local soup kitchen or aid underserved families at the holidays.
For Unnone, these types of programs, activities, and outcomes bring meaning to her work. As an artist and a lover of artistic education, she is able to introduce concepts to students that help shape their worldview. As a leader in the education space, she is able to build programs that bridge both the academic and the action components of leadership programs. Of such she says, “I absolutely love my job. I love to teach art and leadership. I plan to stay at the high school level and support my students and the arts in any way possible.”
Speaking of how the leadership piece of her day-to-day intersects with her work in the creative sphere she says, “I am also the Fine Arts Department Chair at MHS and I am so proud of the team of teachers I work with each day. I believe that the arts create “a soft place to fall” for those creative, determined, intelligent, and gifted students. Our theatre, band, dance, choir, and visual arts programs are top notch and the students gain a wealth of knowledge and confidence by being part of our program. I look forward to working at MHS for many years to come… as long as I stay relevant and able! I will continue to work to support the arts at my school and throughout my community. Our students are creating a beautiful world with their talents and drive. I am glad to be a part of their journey.”
Their journey is shaped by her involvement, but her journey is equally interesting. A graduate of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, Unnone’s resume includes references to a long list of graduate-level work. She’s been a National Core Art Standards reviewer for the West Virginia State Department of Education and an advisor for numerous clubs and school projects. Additionally, Unnone has received recognition as the American Legion West Virginia Teacher of the Year, the most inspiring teacher by West Virginia Governors School of the Arts participants, and has been repeatedly nominated for teacher of the year recognition from the numerous institutions of learning with which she has been involved.
Accolades aside, Unnone’s impact in the Eastern Panhandle reaches beyond the classroom. Her leadership instruction trains emerging leaders to go out and make their mark on a community she loves. Unnone has family here and participates in numerous service-oriented activities through her involvement with both the school system and Beta Sigma Phi, a service sorority. You can find her doing everything from painting backdrops for the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival and baking cookies for church bake sales to serving the homeless and finding ways to introduce young people to volunteer opportunities.
Unnone has been an educator and student advocate in Berkeley County since 1999. That is 16 years of service to area youth. Hundreds of young people have benefited from her decision to follow this journey, and with her commitment to remaining in the field hundreds more will follow.
“I love my job,” she confirms. “I come to the school everyday with a smile on my face. My classroom reflects my absolute love of art. It is colorful, bright, and conducive to learning. I have established certain classroom behavior and work standards. I am consistent with my discipline and with my praise to all students. I enjoy watching our students participate in many of our extra-curricular activities. I genuinely enjoy their talents and accomplishments in and out of the art room. I believe my enthusiasm for art, for them, and teaching is contagious, and I believe that my sincere and positive acknowledgement helps foster their self-esteem…