Meet Shalisha Thomas

Mar 18, 2020 | Curriculum and Instruction, In the News, Spotlight

Shalisha Thomas was stunned to receive the prestigious Milken Educator Award at a school assembly recently.

The Pine Bluff High School art teacher, an Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity Fellow through the University of Arkansas, is the sole recipient in the state for the 2019-20 school year. Only 40 teachers in the nation earned the title.

The award is given to teachers new to the profession or mid-career, commending them on what they have achieved so far — and for their potential. Shalisha’s list of accomplishments keeps growing.

Shalisha, second from left, with students at an Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas exhibit in 2019.

Shalisha, second from left, with students at an Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas exhibit in 2019.

Shalisha is committed to students and fellow educators in the Pine Bluff School District. She also promotes art awareness beyond her school walls. It’s surprising now, but Shalisha didn’t know art was where her teaching career would lead.

“For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. But I didn’t decide to become an art teacher until I graduated high school,” she said.

Shalisha, who graduated from Pine Bluff High in 2002, said she had always enjoyed drawing and creating. Now, her artistic dreams are expanding.

“My ultimate dream is to create an after-school or summer art program for young people that includes visual arts, dance and music,” she said. “I want them to continue learning, exploring and creating even when they’re not in school.”

Shalisha is a lifelong learner. She’s one of 59 Equity Fellows working in over 20 districts and 30 schools across the state. Her fellowship is supported by the Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity at the U of A.

The academy was made possible by a collaboration between the College of Education and Health Professions at the U of A and the Walton Family Foundation through a $10 million gift. The academy focuses on recruiting talented and motivated teachers to relocate to the state. It helps support and develop early-career teachers who have committed to teaching in Arkansas’ most under-resourced districts.

Shalisha Thomas

Shalisha Thomas
Photo credit, Milken Family Foundation

Shalisha said being an Equity Fellow has made her a better teacher.

“It has changed the way I plan for my students, and it has reminded me of the importance of giving my best daily,” she said. “As a fellow, I’m provided with valuable information I can use to teach my students. I receive ongoing support to help me through this process of becoming a better educator, a vigilant listener, a proactive advocate and a more well-rounded, open-minded person. I am truly grateful for this opportunity.”

Her diligence has not gone unnoticed, most recently with the Milken award.

Did we mention she received a $25,000 cash prize as the state’s winner? So, what will she do with the money? It’s not all spoken for yet, but Shalisha plans to learn more about graphic design and consider it as a class option at Pine Bluff High.

Congratulations, Shalisha! The teaching profession is lucky to have you.

This story is one in a series featuring outstanding students in the College of Education and Health Professions. Curious about the Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity now? Reach out to AAEE with any questions!