Arts & Humanities

Colleyville Art History Teacher To Receive Inspiration Award

Toni Byam-Pirotte, an art history teacher at Colleyville Heritage High School, has been selected as the 2012 recipient of the Texas A&M University Inspiration Award for Exceptional Secondary Education.
By Tura King, Texas A&M Marketing & Communications December 10, 2012

Toni Byam-Pirotte, an art history teacher at Colleyville Heritage High School in Colleyville, has been selected as the final 2012 recipient of the Texas A&M University Inspiration Award for Exceptional Secondary Education.

High school teachers selected to receive this unusual award – believed to be the first of its type sponsored by any public university in Texas – are nominated by one of their former students who are about to graduate from Texas A&M.

Byam-Pirotte will be recognized during commencement ceremonies at the university Dec. 15 and will be presented a certificate and check for $2,000. Her school will receive $1,000.

As a university known for valuing excellence, leadership and service, Texas A&M sponsors the award as a way of recognizing those values in the teachers who have inspired and challenged their students to excel, officials note.

Byam-Pirotte was nominated for the award by Michael Preston, who will be formally presented his bachelor’s degree in psychology by Byam-Pirotte, a privilege normally reserved for the university’s president.

Preston says he didn’t go into Byam-Pirotte’s AP (advanced placement) art history class expecting much because he didn’t care much for art.

“I picked the class because of the rumor that it was an easy A. I knew I needed better grades if I wanted to end up at the only school I ever thought about going to Texas A&M. What I didn’t know, is that by signing up for that class, I had guaranteed that my life would be changed.”

He adds that he can remember the order in which the class studied ancient Middle Eastern art: Sumerian, Akkadian, Neo-Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian and Persian. “I remember this because ‘Santa Anna Never Baked A Nutty Pancake,’ an acronym taught by Mrs. Byam-Pirotte.”

Preston, who had no interest in art at all, still remembers that it was Fra Angelico who painted one of the most famous Renaissance works of art, Annunciation. “I know this because of the silly but easy to remember phase, ‘Rainbow, Rainbow, Fra Angelico.’ The angel in Annunciation has rainbow colored wings, thus the origin of the phrase.”

Byam-Pirotte played songs in class that Preston says helped him remember artists of the 19th and 20th centuries and facts about Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky.

He says she stays late every day to help her students and gives them her cell phone number so they can call and ask questions.

“I remember her meeting students at 7 p.m. at school to study in the weeks before the AP test. She is so dedicated to her students learning that she will sacrifice her schedule to make sure a student learns. She has many other methods to inspire learning beyond these,” Preston adds.

Byam-Pirotte worked tirelessly to foster relationships between the disabled and non-disabled students. She helped found the Best Buddies chapter at Colleyville Heritage.

“This organization pairs up intellectually disabled and non-intellectually disabled students in an effort to grow those relationships,” Preston explains. “The organization has monthly dances, movie nights, and a number of other activities to foster friendships between two very different groups of people. It also works to expose the student population to the wonderful special education students at their school.”

Preston says Byam-Pirotte has inspired him not only as a student, but also as a person. He finds the sheer volume of her compassion to be incredible.

“I’m sure that her life isn’t always easy or fun, but talking to her, you’d never know it. Her ability to be overwhelmingly positive facing the challenges of life is inspirational by itself. When you couple that with everything else, you get an extraordinary person. When I die, if I am half the person that Toni Byam-Pirotte is, I will have lived an amazing life.”

Media contact: Tura King, Texas A&M News & Information Services.

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