Amanda Cook - Ashley River Creative Arts
Amanda Cook is only in her first year as an instructional coach at Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School (ARCAES) and already her principal describes her as phenomenal. Before moving into the coaching role, Cook was a fifth-grade teacher at the school where she easily gained the respect and admiration of Principal Michelle Conner and her peers.
“Amanda goes above and beyond for the students and for the teachers,” said Conner. “She is willing to help wherever needed.”
Cook is honored to live and teach in the very community she was educated in and feels as if it is her way of paying it forward.
Cook attended West Ashley High School, and participated in the Teacher Cadet Program which inspired her to pursue a career in education.
Cook, of West Ashley, described the semester-long Teacher Cadet Program as a mini practicum where she learned the basics of education.
Cook graduated in 2003 with a South Carolina Teaching Fellows scholarship and attended Winthrop University and College of Charleston and then the University of South Carolina for graduate school.
Reading and writing have always been a source of enjoyment for Cook which is why she chose to get her Master’s Degree in Language and Literacy. She enrolled as a full-time student and in no time was employed with Charleston County School District as a first-year teacher at the former Edmund A. Burns Elementary School.
One big family
After two years at Burns, an opportunity arose at ARCA where Cook was able to take her love of the arts and infuse it into the curriculum as a fifth-grade teacher. She loves the family environment at Ashley River.
“I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some fabulous veteran teachers,” said Cook. “The team here is very cohesive and we can truly depend on each other. The staff here is special because everyone values the arts in learning and they are committed to it, which results in the students being engaged and happy to be here.”
Her time as a teacher brought great joy, especially when she had the pleasure of being the English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher to both her niece and nephew, who are now high school students at James Island Charter High School, and Charleston County School of the Arts, respectively.
Cook is adventurous and always up for a change. That’s why she applied to be the school’s instructional coach.
“I didn’t want to leave the school or my students, especially because I have a child who is a kindergartner here,” said Cook. “It’s also a rewarding position because it allows me to more broadly share my knowledge of arts integration. That’s so powerful at this age. Most importantly, it’s nice to support my fellow teachers, share ideas, and try to positively impact the school. I want this school to be the best. After all, my child attends Ashley River.”
“Amanda is so perfect for ARCAES because of her passion for education and the arts,” said Connor. “She has a true understanding of arts integration and she is a wonderful resource for our new teachers and our veteran teachers. It is clear every day how much she loves our students and our school.”
There is not a “typical” day for Cook. She juggles many tasks from intervention, to modeling, planning, analyzing, and providing learning materials. It all revolves around art integration, too.
Cook values diversity and loves culture.
“I grew up around the arts and languages,” said Cook. “My mom painted landscapes and figures. My paternal grandmother spoke Spanish and English in her home and shared her culture (especially food) with us. My maternal grandmother played piano. I started playing the viola in fifth grade and continued through high school. I loved writing and still do, and expressing in this form, and started ARCA’s creative writing club to provide our students with another art outlet.”
Cook said the best part of the job is the support from Principal Conner and her commitment to teaching through the arts.
“She supports and encourages all of us and is very understanding,” explained Cook. “She is committed to the arts and that gets the rest of us on board. Principal Conner trusts us to make the right decisions and do what is best for the kids.”
One example of that was a past lesson on the Harlem Renaissance where students learned about the Jazz Age, fashion, music, dancing, and cultural trends through several lessons developed as a grade level team. It all culminated into a big performance for families.
“The activity involves giving students a vocabulary word, pairing students and having them create a movement and sound/spoken word, then circling up and having each pair teach their movement and sound to the whole group, and performing altogether. Incorporating movement and sound helps students remember the meaning of new words,” said Cook. “When we bring in the arts for learning, we see the student come alive and something awakens in them. It makes teaching and learning fun.”
The role of an instructional coach is not new, but in recent years, has become more refined and tailored to each school, Cook explained. She said that decisions are always based on what’s good for the students and that support for the teachers is deliberate.
“It is to help our students feel successful so that they love coming to school,” added Cook. “You have to be flexible. There is no set schedule and it is challenging, but that helps me to grow. We co-teach together, and we collaborate. It’s incredibly rewarding.”
Even more rewarding is her community of colleagues.
“Ashley River is a happy and inviting space,” said Cook. “Everyone shares their expertise and we all work towards the same common goal of doing everything we can to continue to make Ashley River an even better place. It’s working and my child is thriving here.”
Community matters to Cook, as well, inside and outside the school’s walls.
“I am so proud to say I attended West Ashley High school,” said Cook. “My husband Neal and I are proud to say our children Beau (5 years old) and Colette (1-year-old) will attend West Ashley schools. I am proud to give back to the communities that invested in me and now serve my children.”