Monica Skylas: A Personal Remembrance

 In Scott Sikkema

It is with much sadness that we note the passing of Monica Skylas, long-time art teacher at Pirie Elementary School, and a member of CAPE’s advisory council.

Monica, far right, and husband Jim Skylas with Robin DaSilva.

I knew Monica for three decades.  We first met when I oversaw teacher professional development and school and community programs at the Terra Museum of American Art, which had an ongoing collaboration with Pirie.  Monica’s passion for and connection to her students was memorable and striking back then, as was her lively sense of humor. Years later after I came on staff at CAPE, Monica was an enthusiastic participant in our multi-year professional development grant for lead arts teachers at CPS Fine and Performing Arts Magnet Cluster Program schools.  In another multi-year program called the Portfolio Development Project, she co-taught extensive arts integrated curriculum with CAPE teaching artist Ellen Tritschler, collaborating as well with 4th through 6th grade teachers.

It was wonderful to work with Monica on these programs, especially the Portfolio Development Project (or PDP).  Monica exemplified for all of us that we can always learn and try new things, and be willing to engage uncertainty and risk-taking in teaching and making art (qualities we particularly need now in our present situation in schools).   Her honesty, integrity, lack of ego, wit, and sheer enjoyment of being in the PDP professional development meetings elevated the overall spirit of what we were trying to accomplish together.  By coincidence, Monica’s last year of teaching was also the last year of the PDP program.  At the final exhibition event for the program, I had the privilege of publicly honoring Monica by presenting her with a gift (an artist-made necklace), in recognition of her retirement from teaching.  She was very surprised by this, and, in her total modesty, moved and touched that we would think of her.

In subsequent years, Monica was an active advisor to CAPE and an enthusiastic attender and supporter of CAPE events.  I was also fortunate to periodically get together with her for lunch, accompanied by a nice glass of wine and lots of laughter.  I am myself now deeply moved when I think about how often she would proudly wear the necklace we gave her.

Monica had physical health struggles, but in all the years I knew her I never heard her complain once.  Courage takes many forms; Monica modeled her courage for all who knew her every day in her zest for teaching, for learning, for art, and for life.  No one who knew her could ever forget her, or that zest she brought to every single thing she did.  I express here condolences to her family, to whom she was devoted and I know provided her with much love and support always; to those connected to CAPE who worked closely with her, in particular Ellen Tritschler and Jessica Mueller; and to parents, students, administrators, and teachers at Pirie, including her good friend and comrade in arts teaching and learning, Robin DaSilva.

Monica’s family has greatly honored CAPE by suggesting donations to us in her memory.  You can also express your own condolences for the family and thoughts and memories of Monica here (  Robin wrote, “I miss my friend,” and at CAPE we echo those words—we miss our friend.

— Scott Sikkema


Monica teaching Pirie students to work with plaster in a CAPE project.

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