Joanna Puello (center right) poses with interns from Full Sail’s Media Communications program.
Full Sail grad Joanna Puello grew up in Michigan, where she spent time in public, private, and home school. She was always involved with the arts: playing the piano, the violin, and taking dance and theatre classes. And while Joanna didn’t end up becoming a performing artist – she instead earned an undergraduate degree in creative writing and starting working as a teacher – she still credits the arts with giving her confidence and helping develop her character.
Today, as a teacher, Joanna has noticed that music, theater, and visual arts have the same positive effect on her students as they once did for her.
“I’ve done a lot of teaching in a lot of different countries, and no matter who I’m teaching to, when I’m able to incorporate music or theater or dance into any class, it has a positive effect,” says Joanna. “It opens a light in their little corner of the world and allows their whole perspective to shift. It’s the common thread that no other subject material has.”
In late 2009, armed with her professional background and love for the arts, Joanna started to look for a grad school program that would help her pursue her dream of opening an arts education facility. She found Full Sail’s online Instructional Design & Technology program [At the time, the program was known as Education Media Design & Technology] after her sister had expressed interest in enrolling. Joanna asked if she wouldn’t mind her tagging along.
“She was doing an intro to the program online and I thought, ‘This is amazing,’” Joanna remembers. “I knew from the beginning that I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to study; to be able to walk away with [an education] that was going to build towards my dream. I said, ‘Can we do this master’s program together?’ And within two weeks I was registered.”
Full Sail’s Instructional Design & Technology program teaches students how to combine digital resources and modern instructional methods to create new and forward-thinking educational experiences. A major element of the curriculum is a research project related to those discovering and developing those experiences. Enter: World Upside Down.
“We were presented with the research project right away, and after a week I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” says Joanna. “I thought, ‘Okay, kids can’t afford arts or it’s simply not accessible to them. But what if it was as easy as going online it?’”
World Upside Down launched with the goal of providing students in grades kindergarten through 12 with access to online interactive videos in theater, dance, and visual arts. Throughout the yearlong master’s degree program, Joanna put together 40 iMovie videos and uploaded them to YouTube. She reconnected with a few schools that she had previously taught at in the Dominican Republic and asked them if she could enlist students on the island to watch the videos and participate in her research project. She found that the students loved the videos, and during a presentation for class, she realized that her peers and professors did too.
“My professor [Course Director Daniel Siegel] said, ‘Alright, where’s your business plan?’” Joanna says. “So I took about two months, did some research, talked to friends, got some business plan templates, and my sister and I started to move forward. Our instructors’ encouragement and the participants’ positive reaction really was the impetus to keep us going.”
Since graduating in 2011, Joanna has continued to grow World Upside Down, which has no religious affiliation but takes its name from a Bible verse about followers of Jesus who had the power to turn the world upside down with their faith. The nonprofit organization is currently working with an advisory board, producing a catalog of professional arts education videos, applying for grants, and continuing to fundraise with the help of a group of student interns from Full Sail’s Media Communications program.
“One of the most exciting accomplishments that just happened was that Kat Gordon, the vice president for District 5 of Orange County Public Schools, gave us an endorsement,” says Joanna. “Our target is to really focus on elementary and middle schools in Orange County.”
Joanna runs World Upside Down while also working full time as a Spanish teacher for Florida Virtual School. The online school allows her to be flexible with her schedule, but her real secret to advancing the arts involves mastering another art: time management.
“There’s always a more efficient way to do something, so whether it’s World Upside Down or Florida Virtual, I’m always looking for a better alternative, not to reinvent the wheel, but to make systems more efficient,” says Joanna. “For most entrepreneurs, that’s a must.”
World Upside Down will launch a pilot program with Orlando’s Sadler Elementary in 2016. For more information about the organization, visit worldupsidedown.org.
“Arts have the power to revolutionize the world,” says Joanna. “I believe that if students have the opportunity to experience some kind of arts education at some level, the more positive impact they’re going to be able to have on the world, in a truly meaningful way.”