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Focusing on the Future: Using body language to teach art

This Philadelphia art teacher uses body language to teach
This Philadelphia art teacher uses body language to teach 02:27

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- An art teacher in the School District of Philadelphia is making a big difference in our community. Art teacher Erica Mandell is known for wearing a bold print and her bright-colored hair. And for her class there's only one requirement.

"I think it's really cool that we can celebrate things that make us different," Mandell said. "It's simple, just be yourself."

It's something Mandell didn't have growing up.

"When I was a kid I didn't have an adult who was like me," Mandell said.

General George A McCall Elementary School is full of talented students from all walks of life. We're told 50% of the students speak Mandarin as their primary language, but art is universal.

To communicate, Mandell uses a technique called "total physical response," or TPR for short. She might move her body in a different way depending on what she needs students to draw.

"I have them really feel celebrated for what makes them unique."

Mandell was recognized by the Pennsylvania Art Education Association as 2022's "Outstanding Elementary Art Educator of the Year." While this is a huge honor, it doesn't compare to inspiring these young vibrant minds.  

"My art teacher community continues to encourage me to keep learning and growing," she said.

"I don't think a lot of people realize how crucial art is and how deep it goes," Mandell said. "If we didn't have creative thinking, we wouldn't have shoe designs, we wouldn't have building designs." 

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