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November 2020


Program Highlights

Tyler's Dream

Meet the Teacher:

Heather Nehlsen

Mr. Simon Says

A Message of Gratitude


“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
- A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


I love this quote for so many reasons. Piglet, unassuming and  wise beyond his stature, looks inward to find an abundance of thankfulness for the simplest, yet profound, phenomena of connectivity. 


As I think about the last few months and the challenges that have come with connecting remotely with our students, I am thankful for Piglet’s gentle reminder to look beyond the challenges and find gratitude. When I do, I find gratitude for the ArtSparks staff members who log onto their computers each and every day with excitement and optimism; gratitude for the individuals and foundations who continue to support our mission through these trying times, and gratitude for the children whose smiling faces and enthusiasm remind me of another Milne quote, this time uttered by Pooh,

“Sometimes the smallest of things take up the most room in your heart.”  ♥️ 

Indeed, they do. 


Wishing you all the joys of connecting this holiday season,


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A Message from our Founder

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Mr. Simon Says



Our virtual dance programming has been going strong since October! Our incredible dancers from the Cuyahoga Falls 3rd grade have been learning a dance inspired by the song “What the World Needs Now.” What does the world need now?? 


Some of the answers we have been dancing out the past few months are: 

  • community, 

  • tenacity, 

  • empathy, 

  • shared joy, 

  • dreamers, 

  • and individual power. 


In addition to filling the Zoom screens with some high energy dancing, it has been great to see the 3rd grade dancers make connections with the content they are learning through dance. 


  1. At Lincoln Elementary, eyes lit up when a group of dancers shared with us that they feel a sense of belonging and shared joy when they play together in a band they formed.

  2. A student at Price Elementary discovered some individual power within herself when her teacher encouraged her to dance boldy and as big as she could as a leader for her peers.

  3. Our students from DeWitt Elementary shared their dreams of wanting to grow-up to be veterinarians, doctors, Broadway stars--- all sorts of things to make the world a better place. One dancer even has dreams of being an ArtSparks teacher someday. 


Keep up the excellent work, Black Tigers!!

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Meet Tyler! Tyler had his first ArtSparks class as a 3rd Grader at Preston Elementary school. He was singled out as a dancer with an ear for rhythms and commitment to excellence and became one of our TNT scholarship dancers. Fast forward now to his 7th grade year: Tyler is one of our interns who assists in TNT and XD classes each week as well as serving as our Event Coordinator and has helped planned some activities to brighten out time in TNT/XD classes such as Spirit Week and Fitness Challenges.


“One thing I learned in ArtSparks is….teamwork. I was never really good at working as a team before. In our Jupiter and Saturn dance I had to be a leader for the younger kids and that helped me build my teamwork skills.”


ArtSparks was Tyler’s first introduction to dance. Through the TNT/XD scholarship program he also received a scholarship to study at Martell School of Dance where he has had the opportunity to take tap, jazz, and hip hop classes to further his dance studies….he dreamed of taking tap and hip hop when he was younger and through ArtSparks and Martell that dream has come true!


"I like to dance because I get to be with my friends….Dance lets me be who I am."

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Meet the Teacher: Heather Nehlsen

As we begin this unprecedented school year, I find myself both humbled and hopeful. 

Despite the significant challenges our school partners face in educating students remotely, they have welcomed ArtSparks Teaching Teams into their virtual communities and have invested their time and efforts in ensuring the successful delivery of our programming.

How fortunate we are to have their support! Time and time again, I am told about the impact the incredibly talented and devoted ArtSparks Teaching Artists are making — they’re devoted to engaging and inspiring the children we serve. 

Led by Artistic Director Erica Piper, our dedicated staff spent countless hours this summer discovering ways in which to provide excellence in Arts education via remote platforms. They are ready! 

Will teaching hundreds of children each week in this new environment be without its challenges? Probably not. But if there’s one thing I know and trust to be true, it’s this: the ArtSparks Team will face those challenges with a tenacious can-do spirit. 

I look forward to watching our students’ smiling faces as they learn that dance, music, and joy can take place anywhere — and that they are best when shared. 

We are in this together!

Heather Nehlsen is a classroom teacher for students with disabilities in 3rd-5th grades at Barber Community Learning Center in Akron. For three years, Heather’s students have been a part of our Dynamite Duos Program which pairs general education peers with dancers with disabilities and fosters inclusive friendships, individual empowerment, and teamwork through a 20-week dance and music curriculum and year end performance. Here is Heather’s ArtSparks story:


“My students have always loved the ArtSparks program. It was a great opportunity for them to socialize with peers their own age without disabilities, and the students without disabilities enjoyed the time even more while learning compassion, empathy, and a sense of responsibility. Our students transferred what they learned in ArtSparks and started interacting, volunteering, and socializing with their peers with disabilities. ArtSparks has improved my students' skills on following directions, using appropriate social skills and making friends. Teaching self-esteem is also a big part of this program since all students are encouraged to participate and show their talents. During the remote instruction this year, the ArtSparks team has allowed the students to create dances and moves that they can achieve. The students also love the music and seeing the other students dance, smile, and move. This is a great opportunity for the students to build teamwork and listening skills. 


The ArtSparks program is having a positive impact on my students this year even though we were not able to have peer partners; however, this has allowed us to change our focus on what our students can do and to work together to create fun dance moves. Learning from home has not provided the students the exercise and socialization they receive at school recess, gym, and other activities. ArtSparks is giving the students a chance to move, socialize, and stretch which is so important during this difficult time. This year, we are focusing on community, empathy, and the need for all of us to come together and be there for each other. This is the perfect time to focus on positive energy, being fit, expecting your best, and trying your best!”

Mr. Simon Says

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Meet Simon our incredible Music Director! 


Simon began studying music at the age of nine when he persuaded his mother to enroll him in piano lessons. A few years later he developed an interest in the guitar and eventually joined several bands as a teenager. After high school he attended Kent State and played piano for their Jazz Ensemble, ultimately graduating with a BS in Mathematics and Biology. 


As Music Director for ArtSparks, Simon helps arrange and compose the music used in classes and performances as well as leads the team in developing engaging music lessons. Simon believes the arts help us push boundaries of our imagination and create authentic and unique works of art. He has seen young dancers find their place in ArtSparks. In his own words: “I get to help others find their own value and in the process  I have discovered the value in myself.”


Some fun things about Mr. Simon:

  • His favorite song is "The Root" by D'angelo

  • His dream car is a Honda Fit (which he has!)

  • Favorite Hobby: Playing tennis

  • Favorite Dessert: Snickerdoodle

Support ArtSparks today!

You can play a key role in fostering creativity and self-confidence as children experience the Arts in new and profound ways.


You’ll encourage children to develop a belief in themselves that impacts all aspects of their lives.


Your generosity provides access to high-quality dance programming along with the ArtSparks commitment to fostering the understanding of dance as an art form while challenging students of all ages and abilities to discover new heights of individual excellence.


Thank you!

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