Edith Kravitz: ALS Doesn’t Stop Art Teacher from Educating and Inspiring

By: Stephanie Dufner

As a former teacher who taught art to elementary, middle and high school students on Long Island, N.Y., Edith Kravitz has inspired fellow educators and students for many years. She eventually parlayed her creative talents into a successful public relations career as an independent consultant. Her major client was a national educational firm that relied heavily on her services for 13 years. Despite having ALS, Kravitz still utilizes her gifts in teaching and art to educate adults and children about using one’s imagination despite having the disease.

Edith Kravitz

A Florida denizen since 1986, Kravitz relocated to the Sunshine State because her husband Dick was offered a new job in St. Petersburg. She holds a bachelor’s degree in art education from Hofstra University and a master’s degree in art education from C.W. Post College, part of Long Island University. When asked what she most enjoyed about being a teacher, Kravitz replies, “I loved watching and being part of students developing and expressing their creativity. Students could always feel successful because there were no ‘wrong’ answers.”

Today, Kravitz harnesses her creativity in a variety of ways: She has written a Web page that teaches youngsters about ALS and continues to devise colorful collages with the assistance of her caregiver, Ann Parker. Kravitz remains active with the help of daily living aids including a voice activation program, a cough assist machine, a voice amplifier, a BiPAP machine for sleep apnea, a lift machine that transfers her from her wheelchair to her bed, and a van lift that lets her enter the family minivan in her wheelchair and move to the front passenger side where the chair can anchor to the vehicle’s floor.

“I can dictate memos, emails and work on the internet by voice only,” Kravitz says of her voice activation program, which she has used for the past year. “Since I cannot walk or use my arms and hands, I need help with every aspect of daily living.” Dick Kravitz serves as his wife’s primary caregiver.

In addition to using these devices, The ALS Association’s Florida Chapter has offered Kravitz and her family assistance.

“The Florida chapter holds monthly ALS support groups, which we attend regularly. We find these to be most helpful,” Kravitz says. “In addition, a chapter representative attends the quarterly ALS clinics in St. Petersburg where we see all the doctors involved in my treatment. This chapter is always available to provide information and support when we call.”

The Tampa-based chapter helped Kravitz obtain her voice amplification system and assisted with the purchase of the augmentive communications device that will allow her to “speak” if she permanently loses the use of her voice.

In February 2004, Kravitz received her ALS diagnosis. She realized something was wrong with her “when I tried to step into a pair of pants while standing, I could not lift my leg high enough and was off balance.” Two electromyographies (EMGs) and a muscle biopsy confirmed she had the disease. (An electromyography is a test that evaluates the health of the muscles and the nerves controlling the muscles.)

She continued her consulting work for Video Placement Worldwide™ (VPW), an international company that distributes company-sponsored educational materials to schools across the United States, free of charge, until she could no longer use her hands and arms for typing. At that time, Kravitz decided to retire.

During her dozen plus years consulting with VPW, Kravitz oversaw the firm’s public relations, advertising and marketing efforts, as well as being their educational advisor.

Edith Kravitz 2

“As their educational consultant, I worked with teachers and other professionals to develop and write teacher guides and lesson plans that accompanied educational videos that were placed with teachers upon their request,” the Sun City Center resident says. “I also worked with graphic designers to plan the layout and design of each project.” Today, through VPW, more than 50 companies, trade associations and their agencies produce and distribute videos, take-home materials and classroom activity books to our nation’s schools, and Kravitz played an instrumental role in developing these pieces.

“Edith was the quintessential professional,” says Ed Swanson, executive vice president at VPW who is based out of the firm’s Northbrook, Ill. office located near Chicago. “Her professional attitude, objectivity and willingness to be involved in a dialogue resulted in the best products.”

In honor of her work for the firm, VPW created Teacher TipsSM Partner PagesSM on the company’s Web site. This online program features tutorials that discuss topics relating to science, health, literature and community service. Kravitz originally started the program in the company’s print newsletter in 2001. As described on the VPW web site, “these tips describe creative, inventive and effective ways” teachers instruct their students on various subjects. When VPW decides to publish one of these tips, the educator who wrote the piece receives an award totaling $50, and today, approximately 70,000 teachers nationwide receive these tips via an electronic newsletter.

One of the stories featured on Partner Pages Kravitz wrote herself. The Web page explains ALS and offers a variety of links, so that students and their instructors can havea better understanding of the disease. One of the links gives young readers a lesson in neuroscience; another instructs adults on how they can discuss the effects of the disease to children in a comprehensive—yet compassionate—manner.

About her piece, Kravitz says, “My first objective (of writing this article) is to raise awareness of ALS among students, their families and teachers. The more they understand, the more they will hopefully support ALS research.”

“My hope is that teachers will use this information in their classrooms,” continues Kravitz, “especially when there is a student who knows or has a family member with ALS.” Kravitz also wrote this page to help students realize people with ALS may be physically impaired, but they are still valuable and productive community members.

Recently, Kravitz emailed her VPW web page to a nephew who resides in New Jersey, David Sorin. Sorin’s wife Randi works as a teacher with four-year-olds at a Jewish temple school. In a recent lesson, Randi Sorin talked to her charges about understanding differences between people and told them people do not need hands to create art.

The lecture resulted in “Art from the Heart,” colorful designs the children created with paper and paints.

“After discussing different parts of the body that could be used for making art, the children went outside and used their feet, elbows, blew paint through a straw, and even held brushes in their mouths to make beautiful art pieces,” Kravitz says. “The results were unbelievable and the children had a blast. To top it off, the children, their teachers and parents decided to donate the money they had saved all year for charitable donations to The ALS Association’s Florida Chapter—a total of $500.” The Sorins gave Kravitz the finished piece of art at a recent celebration of her and her husband’s 50th wedding anniversary.

“Edith has a passion for education. She found an opportunity to create awareness about ALS by providing teaching resources on VPW,” says Dara Alexander, president of The Association’s Florida Chapter.

Undoubtedly, art is also a passion for Kravitz. She has lost the ability to draw, but with the help of her caregiver, she has designed multimedia collages with images culled from photographs of her travels around the globe. This May, The Tampa Tribune profiled the teacher/artist in an article that discusses her recent artistic achievements. In this year’s Kings Point Art League show in Florida, Kravitz received an award for a collage named “Daughters of Eve,” a piece that depicts women from various backgrounds and different countries. Most interestingly, Kravitz devised the piece after she could no longer use her hands.

“I can no longer create the art that I love to do,” she admits. “However, I have worked out a system with my caregiver where she follows my directions and literally becomes my hands.” Kravitz conceptualizes the pieces, and Parker works with materials such as tissue paper, paints and pencils according to her patient’s instructions.

Along with Parker and Kravitz’ husband, Dick, family and friends serve as her primary support system. “They help with their support and love,” Kravitz says of her husband and two sons, Bob and Gary, and their respective spouses and children. “As for friends, we are included in all of their activities, and none has treated us any differently than before I had ALS. To me, this is the best support I can have from family and friends.”

For more on VPW and Edith’s Teacher TipsSM Partner Pages, click onhttp://www.vpw.com/partner/teachertips/ .

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