Rita Cheek: Still advocating for kids

Portraits by Kathy Tran

Rita Cheek was a retired educator living a happy life in Plano. When the pandemic hit, she felt compelled to go back into teaching. Through online classes, she’s been able to reach kids, many of whom she felt desperately needed some extra attention.

“I feel like with the whole pandemic experience, our children are the ones that have been hit the hardest,” she says. “I feel very passionately about being an advocate for the child and also for the arts.” Cheek began her career teaching art and English in public schools. She then spent several years working in private schools before eventually teaching lessons from home as she was raising her kids.

As she started seeing how schools were handling online learning, she feared it wouldn’t work. In her opinion, being someone who cares is the only way for educators to help children find their passion and succeed. That’s hard to do when you have a class of more than 20 students online. Cheek said her heart went out to teachers who were putting in tremendous work toward what was seemingly an impossible task.

Around the same time, at the behest of her kids, she was starting to give art lessons to her grandchildren. That was also a difficult task during a pandemic. Then one of her out-of-town grandkids suggested a Zoom lesson. Cheek says she kept it simple and followed their lead. Things went so well, she eventually started teaching online art classes for others.

 

She kept the number of students small (no more than six) so that each student would receive plenty of attention. If their minds started wandering, she could quickly get them back on task.

Cheek still visits local schools and other groups where she is known as “Ms. Rita.” She enjoys connecting with kids and sharing her passion for reading and writing as well as painting and drawing.

In 2020, she released her first book. It’s a children’s tale called A Dolls’ Christmas Party, which she also illustrated. Based on events from her own family, the story is about three sisters hosting a doll tea party. It would become a tradition they would hold onto for years to come.

“I believe in traditions,” Cheek says. “I think they hold us together as families. It’s important for us to remember who we are and how we got there.”

She is currently marketing the book through her website, diaryofastayathomefamily.com. Cheek has also written two other books which she plans to release in the future after they are edited and illustrated.

She says her experience as a mother raising “wild and crazy little people” has given her the chance to look back and see what works and what doesn’t work. Her hope now is that she can contin- ue to be someone who uses her skills and passions not only to help children, but their parents as well.

“I believe that the doors of education, every single one of them, can be opened through art,” she says.

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