Dedicated Teachers Keep Art Alive in Corning

It’s no secret that statewide budget cuts have dramatically affected arts programs at many public schools. But thanks to a supportive administration, help from the community, and the passion of two teachers in particular, the arts continue to thrive at Corning Union High School (CUHS).

Karen Atkinson teaches ceramics and drawing at CUHS, and Mendy Beardsley chairs the Fine Arts Department. Both teachers are known for “going the extra mile” for their students. Atkinson has taught at the school for 11 years, and Beardsley for 21.

“The quality and value of their teaching and investment of time and energy into students is manifest especially through the quality of show-ready work that students produce and display in multiple public venues,” says CUHS Principal Charlie Troughton. “If you’ve seen the awesome displays of artwork generated by students from Corning High School, you would be thoroughly impressed. Behind those students are two teachers dedicated to student artistic creativity and productivity.”

Superintendent Bruce Cole agrees. “The one thing that makes Mendy a great teacher is her devotion to her students. She sees the hidden talents and is a magician at developing those new skills in her students,” he says. “Karen is a wonderful, positive influence on her students. She has developed the ceramics program to include some very non-traditional units.”

Troughton believes all the arts are crucial to education. “Many students need, in the balance of learning, different ways to create and express themselves through art, music and writing,” he says. “Art is a way to use a different part of the brain and provide a well-rounded approach to learning that includes academics, physical activity, artistic expression and other hands-on endeavors.”

Cole has known Beardsley since 1990, when he taught Spanish at CUHS, and team-taught several cross-disciplinary projects, including a Spanish language and Picasso unit. Both Cole and Beardsley have traveled to Spain with students as well. He describes both Beardsley and Atkinson as fantastic facilitators of learning who help students understand themselves through art, drawing talents out of students that the learners themselves may not realize they have.

Due to the popularity of these instructors and their classes, many students remain in the department for several years. Students are able to discover the historical and cultural significance of different types of art, both at home and abroad. Many students travel to museums and galleries and enjoy field trips to Europe. Both teachers view travel as an important part of learning and help the students find creative ways to allow them to do so.

“I absolutely love my art history class,” Beardsley says. “It gives me the chance to create awareness of the culture that surrounds the artwork.” Many students don’t experience art history until college, where it can be really fast-paced. Because it is an elective at the high school level, she has the freedom to slow it down a bit and embed projects along the way. Beardsley has developed the course over the past 15 years, and calls it “her pride and joy.”

Beardsley and Atkinson strongly encourage their students to participate in competitions and juried shows locally. So far this year, students have shown artwork at Corning Rotary Club’s annual Wine, Food, and Art Festival, Chico’s Silver Dollar Fair, Red Bluff’s Montana Morrison Gallery artists’ reception, and at the Red Bluff Bull & Gelding Sale art show. Students raised funds for a trip to Italy this December, in part, by the sale of their artwork at these shows.

Atkinson and Beardsley teach about 350 students each year and Cole says their classes are full for a reason. “Students enjoy their style of teaching and knowledge of the discipline. I appreciate the fact that they have high expectations for student behavior, development and achievement.”

Both Atkinson and Beardsley are known for their ability to make personal connections with students. Troughton says that many students enjoy going into their classrooms at lunch time just to hang out. Colleagues and students speak highly of these two teachers, who are an integral part of the CUHS community. “Mendy and Karen are committed to students and provide students multiple opportunities to be recognized for exceptional artistic ability,” he adds. “These two ladies are hardworking, student-focused professionals.”

[sws_blue_box box_size=”586″]Our Be the Change column mission is to feature those, especially from the North State, who are actively making a difference in the lives of children and families. If you would like to nominate someone who is making a difference, please write to [/sws_blue_box]

Desiree Gonzalez
About Desiree Gonzalez

Desiree Gonzalez is an author and a mother of two in Chico.


  1. Amber Burgess says:

    Thank-you for the true wonderful story on the art teachers at Corning High School. I was fortunate to get a 4 year art education from Mendy Beardsley while attending Corning High. She is a not only a wonderful teacher but also a true friend to her students and I will never forget her.

Comment Policy: All viewpoints are welcome, but comments should remain relevant. Personal attacks, profanity, and aggressive behavior are not allowed. No spam, advertising, or promoting of products/services. Please, only use your real name and limit the amount of links submitted in your comment.

Leave a Reply