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Arts team

Lydia Atkins Chorus and Drama Teacher at Mount Airy High School

Lydia Atkins

Lydia Atkins earned her Bachelor of Music Education from Appalachian State University in May of 2022. She is currently in her first year of teaching at Mount Airy High School as the director of choral and theatre arts, as well as teaching music appreciation. In her free time, Ms. Atkins likes to hike, paint, and spend time with her friends and family. Ms. Atkins can be contacted at [email protected]


Keenia Beck Visual Arts teacher at Mt. Airy High School
Keenia Beck
If you can find a 1992 Carroll County yearbook, you will find a graduate whose ambition was to “pave the world with art.” Keenia Beck began living this dream after graduating from James Madison University in 1996. Armed with her fine art degree and teaching certification, Keenia headed south to Mount Airy, North Carolina. Beginning her teaching career teaching art at the elementary level, then in 1999 gained the position as Visual Art Instructor at Mount Airy High School and has been blessed to share her knowledge and love of art with thousands of students. As an educator, Keenia has been honored to be part of some amazing young artists progress into “artisthood” and/or adulthood. When not in the classroom, Keenia spends her time with her husband and two daughters finding new adventures and cherishing their time together. 
Contact Mrs. Beck at [email protected]
Lisa Belcher Visual Arts Teacher at Mt. Airy Middle School
Lisa Belcher
Mrs. Belcher received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Radford University in her home state of Virginia. Shortly after moving to North Carolina, she began her professional arts career using her concentration in graphic design until beginning her most fulfilling job of being a “stay at home mom”.  When the time came to rejoin the workforce and because of her discovered interest in working with students in a school setting, Mrs. Belcher earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Lees McRae University. After a few years as a classroom teacher, she was blessed to combine her passion for art and her love of teaching.  Mrs. Belcher is grateful to have found her place teaching Visual Arts at Mount Airy Middle School. Living in the area for the past thirty years, she feels as if she has finally come home. Contact Mrs. Belcher at [email protected]

Meredith Dowdy Band Director at Mount Airy Middle School

Meredith Dowdy

Meredith Dowdy received a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Salem College in 2014. She began her career as a music teacher for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. She was the band, chorus and guitar teacher at North Stokes High School in Danbury, NC from 2015 to 2019. Ms. Dowdy taught music at Jones Intermediate School and B. H. Tharrington Primary School in 2019 to 2021. She also taught chorus, theatre, and music appreciation at Mount Airy High School during the 2021-2022 school year.. In her free time, Ms. Dowdy loves to read, travel, and spend time with her family, friends, and dogs. Contact Ms. Dowdy at [email protected]


Nicky Gordon Art Teacher at B.H. Tharrington and Jones Intermediate. 



Nicky Gordon received her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk and taught 5th grade for eleven years at Surry County Schools. She is married and has one daughter. 

Nicky enjoys traveling, art, music, drama, dance and loves dogs. Included in the family a grumpy Schnauzer and a silly Shih Tzu.

Nicky took time away from teaching to be at home with her daughter and also worked for her mother at her graphic art and design studio learning new skills for a few years. When Nadia started school, Nicky returned to teaching and this time around wanted to follow her heart and share her love for art with her students. 

Before coming to BHT and Jones, Nicky taught Elementary Art in WSFC Schools for four years traveling between five schools. Nicky lives in Mt. Airy and is excited to be teaching closer to home. She is a graduate of MASH 1990! Go BEARS!   Contact Nicky at [email protected]

Hollie Heller  Music teacher at BHT and Jones Intermediate
Holli Heller
Holli Heller received a Bachelor of Music Education Degree from East Carolina University in 1996 and her Masters in School Administration and Curriculum and Development in 2012.  She is currently the music teacher at Tharrington Primary School and Jones Intermediate School where she teaches general music and directs "Melody Makers" a 3rd - 5th grade after school program. Mrs. Heller lives in Mt Airy with her husband and dog "Darling".  In her free time she loves crafting and all things music and theater.  You can contact Mrs. Heller at [email protected]
Jennifer Riska Chorus and General Music Teacher at Mt. Airy Middle School
Jennifer Riska
Jennifer Riska received a Bachelor of Music degree from Brigham Young University with an emphasis in piano pedagogy.  Mrs. Riska has been teaching music in the public schools since 2005 when she started teaching chorus at Meadowview Middle School.   From 2010-2017, she taught both band and chorus there.  Mrs. Riska joined the Mt. Airy City Schools family in 2017.   She teaches Chorus and General Music at Mt. Airy Middle School and also sponsors the MAMS show choir.  She loves helping young musicians discover the joy of making music together.  She is married to Ray Riska, and they have 4 children and 7 grandchildren. Outside of school, she teaches private piano lessons and enjoys cooking and running and spending time with family.  Contact Mrs. Riska at [email protected]
Nick Tirpak Band Director at Mount Airy High School
Nick Tirpak










Nick Tirpak, a native of Apex, North Carolina, currently serves as the Director of Bands at Mount Airy High School in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Under his direction, the band has seen notable growth and enrollment in the past year. Within this role, he leads and directs the Marching Granite Bears, Concert Band, and is an advisor for the Tri-M Music Honor Society. With his guidance, the Mount Airy High School Concert Band received straight superiors at Music Performance Adjudication in March 2023, the first time the band attended in nearly 40 years. Mr. Tirpak’s students consistently receive superior and excellent ratings at Solo and Ensemble MPA, participate in county and district honor band clinics and in various college music programs. Mr. Tirpak was named the “Mount Airy City Schools Beginning Teacher of the Year” for the 2023-2024 school year.

Mr. Tirpak is a graduate of Western Carolina University where he earned his Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Science in Education. During his time, he served in numerous leadership positions including “Brass Caption Coordinator” with the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band. In this role, he gained valuable experience with teaching the 500-person ensemble and worked closely with the brass on marching and visual technique. In 2022, Nick was the recipient of the “Outstanding Prospective Teacher” award from the Western Carolina University College of Education and Allied Professions, as well as the “Richard M. Renfro Academic Achievement Award” from the Western Carolina University School of Music.

Mr. Tirpak holds professional affiliations with the National Association for Music Educators (NAfME), the North Carolina Music Educators Association (NCMEA), and the North Carolina Bandmasters Association (NCBA). He resides near Winston-Salem with his wife Megan and dog Gibby.     Contact Mr. Tirpak at [email protected]