April 1, 2024

CREATE Conservatory Takes New Approach to Education Through Imagination and Creativity

5.3 min read| Published On: April 1st, 2024|

By Cindy Peterson

CREATE Conservatory Takes New Approach to Education Through Imagination and Creativity

5.3 min read| Published On: April 1st, 2024|

Coloring outside the lines

A revolution is taking place, not led by corporate entities, but by a passionate mother and educator on a mission to break the barriers of the traditional education system. 

Nikki Duslak was a teacher and principal in the public school system for nine years, where she navigated the ins and outs of the system and saw just how many students fell through the cracks because they didn’t fit the mold.

“The public system is a mass production machine that tells our students to sit down and be quiet,” she says. “For some students, the mass production model works just fine, and they can thrive in that environment, but throughout my years as an educator and administrator, I learned that the vast majority of children don’t fit into the literal and metaphorical desks.”

The Inspiration 

One of the children who did not fit into the standard system is Nikki’s son, Avery, who inspired her to found CREATE Conservatory, Lake County’s first arts integration school. 

“Early in his life, it became clear that there was not going to be a good school for him in our area,” Nikki says. “I tried multiple organizations, both public and private, and they didn’t work for Avery. Not only was he not being appropriately challenged, but he was beginning to have social and emotional struggles that were born out of his boredom and disengaged brain. I drew from my experience as a teacher and principal and decided to build a school where I knew Avery, and countless other kids just like him, would thrive.”

CREATE Conservatory was born to provide kids the opportunities to create, explore, think and problem-solve. CREATE got its non-profit status in 2019 and opened for student enrollment in August 2020.  

“Creativity is the single most important thing we need to teach our children,” Nikki says. “Virtually every great discovery in the world was made, not just by a smart person, but by a creative problem-solver. The arts are arguably the best way to teach and sustain creative minds, so it is imperative that we infuse them into our children’s lives at every possible juncture so they are prepared to solve the problems of the world for their generation.”

A Growing Need

CREATE’s growth has been remarkable. More than 50 students are currently enrolled and there is an active waitlist. However, the journey hasn’t been without its challenges. CREATE first opened in a building rented at a local church in Leesburg, but Nikki was able to purchase the former Adventure Cove Miniature Golf in Mount Dora last year. The building and adjoining property had to go through major renovations, some of which are still ongoing, to get the school into full-swing.

“We are currently working with engineers and architects to finalize the plans for the new building,” Nikki says. “Simultaneously, we need to raise an additional $300,000 to meet the requirements for the down payment of our $2.5 million loan. We would like to break ground as soon as possible, and funding is our biggest obstacle at the moment.”

Despite the obstacles, CREATE is currently serving students in kindergarten through seventh grade, but the ultimate goal is to provide a space for K-12 students, complete with classrooms, a theater and dance space, art center and STEM lab. 

The Yass Prize

CREATE’s innovative approach to education received national recognition in 2023 when the institution was named semifinalist for The Yass Prize, also known as the Pulitzer of Education Innovation. CREATE made it to the top 33 nationwide out of more than 2,700 applications submitted to the competition, which partners with Forbes. The honor came with a $200,000 prize. 

“We were so excited to make it as far as we did,” Nikki says. “The whole experience was amazing and it was exciting to share and collaborate with schools from all over the country.” 

Arts-Integrated Education

Nikki emphasizes the importance of providing children with alternative learning options. 

“The modern education system isn’t teaching children to think,” she says. “It is teaching them to be compliant and repeat memorization of rote facts. Arts integration allows students to draw on prior knowledge and build deep, meaningful connections that allow for synthesis, analysis and evaluation. Arts integration allows students to learn collaboratively, cross-curricularly and provides them with hands-on opportunities on a daily basis.”

Nikki explained that most people can recall the song lyrics to their favorite song even if they haven’t heard it in years. Or, as soon as the Electric Slide comes on, your feet already know the moves. What would happen if core education was taught through the arts like singing and dancing? 

“Odds are, you’d still be singing about irregular past tense verbs or how to divide fractions,” Nikki says. 

People learn differently. That’s why the need for alternative learning has become a successful venture. 

“As adults, we recognize that our colleagues, friends and co-workers all have individual personalities,” Nikki says. “They all have different needs in order to be successful in careers and in life. Why don’t we provide children with the same grace? We don’t expect all of our students to sit the same way, answer questions the same way, or be able to express their knowledge acquisition in the same way. CREATE is an environment where all students are welcomed, encouraged to be themselves, and celebrated for the individual talents that they bring to the table.” 

For more Information,
visit www.createconservatory.com. 

Core Values

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About the Author: Cindy Peterson

Originally from the small town of Berryville, Arkansas, Cindy has become a multimedia specialist in journalism, photography, videography and video editing.

She has a B.S. in Communications from the University of Central Arkansas and is a correspondent for The Daily Commercial, LakeFront TV and Beacon College’s PBS talk show, “A World of Difference,” where she received an Anthem Award and Telly Award.

When she isn’t working, Cindy spends time with her husband, Ryan, and son, David, traveling and taking photos of landscapes and wildlife.

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