About Us

Our Vision

We envision a public education system in Maryland that supports, cultivates, nurtures, and uplifts ALL students’ creativity through a robust arts education experience so that they can thrive in a healthy society.

Our Mission

AEMS is committed to ensuring that all students in the state of Maryland have access to high quality arts education by mobilizing power to communities through advocacy programs, professional and leadership programs, and resource building and sharing.

Our Values


We believe that the community is the most important part of our advocacy efforts. We want to illuminate and highlight the power communities have to make systemic changes.


We believe that creativity is critical for humans to thrive. It is what makes humans human.

Racial Equity

We understand the history and impact of educational policies on our most historically resilient communities and we commit to addressing this through our work. Our work is rooted in anti-racism and we believe that arts education can be a tool to create systemic change within education.


We believe that growth is the most important aspect of learning. We are invested in the growth of our constituents, board, and staff through professional and leadership development.

AEMS’s Approach

AEMS’s Anti-Racist Positioning Statement


Our Staff

Rachel McGrain, Executive Director

Rachel (she/her) is a life-long Marylander, educator, and musician. Her commitment to educational equity and social justice has inspired her career in education and nonprofit leadership. 

Rachel began her career as a Teach for America Baltimore corps member in 2013 after graduating Magna Cum Laude from the University of Maryland, College Park with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music/Trumpet Performance and History. In addition to teaching 7th and 8th grade math at KASA in West Baltimore, she served as the middle school track coach and 8th grade team leader while earning her Master of Science in Educational Studies from Johns Hopkins University in 2015. 

In response to the lack of consistent arts programming available to her students, Rachel started an instrumental music program in 2016 at Green Street Academy where she taught 7th grade music as well as several after-school programs including bucket band, wind band, and drumline. She then transitioned to the nonprofit sector as the Development Director of Arts Education in Maryland Schools (AEMS), where she also served as a member of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future coalition and the Baltimore Arts Education Initiative Instrumental Working Group led by Arts Every Day. 

Most recently, Rachel served as the Baltimore City Director of Repair the World where she continued strengthening her leadership and community mobilization skills with a focus on direct service while engaging with an expanded network of social justice advocates throughout Baltimore City. Rachel is thrilled and honored to be returning to AEMS as Executive Director to continue advocating for all students in Maryland to have the robust access to high quality arts education they deserve.

Peter Dayton, Deputy Director

Composer and pianist Peter Dayton has been a member of the AEMS team since November, 2018. An Ohioan happily transplanted to Maryland, Peter earned a Bachelor’s Degree (Summa Cum Laude, Pi Kappa Lambda Honor Society) from Vanderbilt University majoring in Composition/Theory and minoring in English. He received his Master’s in Composition from The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and has lived in Baltimore ever since. In addition to his academic pursuits, Peter has been active in LGBT+ charity fundraising and has organized and promoted events devoted to identity-based inclusivity and social justice. Peter’s compositional exploits have taken him all over the United States, to Europe, Hong Kong, and Perú. He has composed works for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, and a short chamber opera about Gertrude Stein. Peter actively produces concerts of modern and contemporary music for the general public. Peter is honored to contribute his organizational, promotional, and artistic abilities to AEMS’s efforts to make Maryland a world-class example of well-funded and supported arts education programs. Peter also enjoys playing jazz standards in his spare time. Learn more about his music through his website.

Jessika Williams, Development Manager

Jessika Willams is a new addition to AEMS team as Development Manager. Jessika comes to AEMS with  a wealth of development experience, having worked for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and various  smaller organizations in the nonprofit sector. She attended Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland majoring in Music Vocal Performance. While at Morgan State University, Jessika had the  opportunity to travel the world and perform in premier concert halls all over North America, South  America, Africa, Australia, and Europe. Jessika spent 3 years as a Pre- K – 8th grade music teacher in  Baltimore City Schools, teaching General Music, Choir, Theater and Movement. She is a member of  Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity Inc. and currently serves at the President of the  Baltimore Alumnae Chapter. Jessika is also an active member of the Harford County branch of the  NAACP and a member of Cecil Solidarity; a collaborative, community-based group formed to promote  racial and social justice in Cecil County. Maryland and beyond. In her spare time Jessika performs with the Carter Legacy Singers, Washington Opera Society, and various ensembles in the  Baltimore Metropolitan Area along with participating in pageants. Her greatest accomplishment to date is  being a mother and a wife. 

Alissa Gittens, Communications and Community Mobilization Manager

Born in New Jersey, Alissa Gittens attended Morgan State University where she received flute instruction with Dr. Anita Thesen and performed with various ensembles before receiving her Bachelor of Arts Degree of Music.  As an active advocate for arts accessibility and youth development, Alissa was previously the Director of Programs for The MusicianShip, but now serves as an ambassador for Nuvo Flutes and is a board member with the Montgomery Philharmonic of Montgomery County, MD. In 2020, she created the Flutists of Color group on Facebook and launched The Urban Flautistas Fest in celebration of flutists of color around the world.

In addition, she provides social media and marketing consulting while coordinating recruitment initiatives as a Recruiting Consultant for the Fine and Performing Arts Department at her alma mater. Alissa also enjoys teaching flute and piano to private students throughout the mid-Atlantic region and the Caribbean.

Patrick O’Reilly, Policy & Operations Assistant

Patrick is new to the nonprofit world and is excited to develop a career in the field. He is currently a Public Ally with Baltimore Corps which endeavors to give professional opportunities and education to young people to put the power of leadership into the hands of members of the community. Patrick attended McDaniel college and obtained bachelor’s degrees in psychology and political science. As an advocate for justice and peace for all he hopes to do what he can to make other’s lives just a bit better.

FY22 Board Members

  • Jane Coffey, Board Co-Chair, Director of Development, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
  • Anita Lambert, Board Co-Chair, Coordinating Supervisor, Department of Creative & Performing Arts, Prince George’s County Public Schools
  • Kristin Cox, Treasurer, Manager of Quality Control for Gas & Electric Programs, Baltimore Gas & Electric
  • Nigel-Ray Garcia, Board Secretary, Deputy Director, Community Engagement & Recruitment, BaltimoreCorps
  • Carole R. Alexander, Carole R. Alexander Consulting
  • Christen Cromwell, English and Drama Education, Baltimore County Public Schools
  • Sheila Gibbs, Of Counsel, Kramon & Graham, Attorneys at Law
  • Ashley Monroe, Distribution Construction Coordinator, Baltimore Gas & Electric
  • J’aime Drayton, Executive Director, Baltimore Family Alliance

AEMS Emeritus Board Members FY22

  • Chris Dietze
  • Karen Footner
  • Mary Ann Mears
  • Brian Sullam

FY21 Educator Council

  • Steven Barker, Theatre & Media Arts, Montgomery County
  • Natalie Estelle, Visual Art, Baltimore City
  • JoAnne Foster, Media Arts, Prince George’s County 
  • Kayla Harley, Dance, Media Arts & Theatre, Prince George’s County
  • Julian Lazarus, Theatre & Arts Integration, Montgomery County
  • Sarah Lorek, Vocal Music, St. Mary’s County
  • Robert Miller, Instrumental Music, Howard County
  • Emily Moul, Dance, Anne Arundel County
  • Elizabeth Palmer, Instrumental Music, Prince George’s County
  • Kelly Reymann, Elementary Music & Theatre, Frederick County
  • Danni Schmitt, Instrumental Music, Baltimore City
  • Maria Sunick, Visual Art, Frederick County
  • Kristen Tyler, Dance, Queen Anne’s County
  • Karen Zepp, Instrumental Music, Howard County

FY21 AEMS Ambassadors

  • Sarah Edelsburg, Community Art Collaborative AmeriCorps Program Manager, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)
  • Anand Macherla, Ecosystem Associate, SurgeBaltimore 
  • Ashlee McKinnon, Freelance Dance Educator, Arts Administrator, and Consultant
  • Jen Retterer, Orchestra Director, Lake Elkhorn Middle School in Howard County
  • April Ryan, Art Teacher, George Washington Carver Elementary School in St. Mary’s County 
  • Marci Shegogue, Music Director and Board President for The Free Theatre, Collaborative Accompanist at Montgomery County Public Schools, Music Director for Free Range Humans and Interfaith Families Project, freelance musician
  • Gerrod Williamson, Student Leadership Specialist, Center for Social Concern at Johns Hopkins University
  • Paulette Wilson, Social Media Specialist, University of Maryland, Baltimore 

AEMS’s Founding

In response to growing concern about the diminishing quality and equity of access to arts education in Maryland’s public schools, the Maryland State Arts Council, in partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education, formed Arts Education in Maryland Schools (AEMS) in June 1992. Several beliefs inspired this effort: the importance of cultural literacy in teaching and learning; the arts’ intrinsic value in childhood development; and the ability to enhance learning and create positive school environments. AEMS incorporated as a 501(c)(3) Maryland non-profit organization in November 1997.

AEMS’s Organizational Structure

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