Clinnesha Sibley loves telling stories and teaching others to do the same. The literary arts teacher was named the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce’s Educator of the Year for the Mississippi School of the Arts.
Sibley has been MSA’s literary arts instructor for five years. She began teaching in secondary education at the Piney Woods School in 2016, following teaching stints at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
“MSA is such a special place,” she said.
Sibley remembers as a student in the McComb School District hearing about MSA being built.
“When you heard about it back then, it had such an elite reputation and it seemed so far-fetched to go to Mississippi School of the Arts,” Sibley said. “It was a dream that never really got fully explored for me, to attend MSA. Of all my teaching experiences, I think this was more personal because it really felt like a full-circle experience for me.”
But what makes MSA more unique for her is the student-teacher experience.
“The students really want to be here. They have to submit portfolios and interview to be in this setting, so being here is something that they work to get to, and once you have them in a space where you can teach them their craft and watch them grow, they take their learning personally. ,” Sibley said. “I’ve never seen high school students take such ownership of their education. These are serious young artists who are invested in making the world better than what they were presented with. They are socially responsible young people and they all have roots in Mississippi.”
“It reminded me of my journey, and I can see myself in these students,” she said. “My other experiences have never been this personal. That’s what makes MSA different and special for me.”
Sibley teaches fiction writing, poetry, playwriting and creative writing to the school’s juniors and seniors in the literary arts track, but also to students in other disciplines who want to hone their writing skills.
“We do writing labs, practicums, and experiment with non-traditional, hybrid forms of writing. They get to practice industry-style writing, so they can explore different careers — like screenwriting, video game narrative writing, and journalism,” Sibley said. “And all those classes have been backed by Master Class visiting artists, where they can explore other unique things they may want to do with their writing.”
Students also write scripts for podcasts, and create self-published books and a spring literary journal, the 14th edition of which will be published this month.
Sibley has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tougaloo College and a Master of Fine Arts degree in playwriting from the University of Arkansas. She has published a number of plays, poetry, monologues and essays, and is an award-winning playwright.
“MSA has been so fortunate to have Mrs. Clinnesha Sibley among our faculty,” said Dr. Suzanne Hirsch, executive director of MSA. “Her ability to help students find their individual voices as writers is inspiring to all of us. There is no doubt the impact she has made on these students will be evident throughout their future success.”
The Educator of the Year award is the first such award Sibley has won as a secondary instructor. Sibley said she is honored to be chosen primarily because the students have a large voice in selecting the award.
“Students can provide commentary with their vote, and what I heard in the commentary was that I provided lots of growth opportunities for the students and challenged them to write and think ‘outside of the box,’ and I was really inspired by their reasoning for choosing me for their Educator of the Year,” Sibley said. “To be able to hear what students have to say about you and then recommending that you have this honor, it’s very heartwarming. All I can say is I believe I was chosen because of the students, because of my impact on them, which is something teachers can only hope — that we’re positively impacting our students. It’s a hope we show up with every day.
“I’m very grateful that I did a job that earned me this honor.”