Five Muscogee teachers selected for Harvard summer program

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 16, 2013 

Five local teachers will attend a professional development program at Harvard next summer, thanks to grants from the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation.

The Muscogee County School District teachers selected for the 2014 Project Zero Classroom at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass., are:

• Ronda Allen, seventh-grade language arts, Arnold Magnet Academy.

• Christy Grigsby, 11th-grade American literature and 12th-grade British literature, Early College Academy.

• Clayton Graham, grades 9-12 architecture and engineering, Jordan High School.

• Scott Chandler, grades 4-5 science, St. Elmo Center for the Gifted.

• Benjamin Foust, grades 4-5 math and creativity, St. Elmo.

Graham, a 15-year educator, called this opportunity "a wonderful privilege."

"I'm hoping that I'll be able to learn new ideas to enhance my teaching as well as student planning," he said, "so I would become a little bit more effective and help my students be more productive."

The foundation announced the recipients at a news conference Monday afternoon in the Wynnton Arts Academy media center.

When these teacher attend the program July 21-25, the foundation will have sent 20 Muscogee County teachers to Harvard in three years. It costs the foundation nearly $5,000 to send each teacher to the Harvard program. Since its inception 18 years ago, the foundation has awarded more than $1.7 million to Muscogee County teachers through such grants and its Teacher of the Year program.

District superintendent David Lewis, who spent his first 34 years in education with Polk County (Fla.) Public Schools before the Muscogee school board hired him in July, put the foundation's generosity and vision in perspective.

"There are many foundations throughout the country, and most of the time they work on rewarding and acknowledging teachers for their work," Lewis said. "But rarely, in fact never, have I seen a foundation put its resources into building capacity in teachers by sending them to something as prestigious as this Harvard experience."

According to the program's website, teachers in Project Zero Classroom learn to "create classrooms, instructional materials and out-of-school learning environments that promote deep learning and understanding." The project addresses questions such as:

• How can we best inspire and nurture creative thinking and problem solving in our students and ourselves?

• What is understanding and how does it develop?

• What are the roles of reflection and assessment?

• How can participants continue to share and pursue their understanding of the project's ideas with others after the program?

Muscogee County teachers who are among the district's 10 Teacher of the Year semifinalists during any of the past 10 years are eligible to apply for the Harvard program. This year's selection committee members were: Judy Thomas, Columbus Councilor and MEEF's projects chairwoman; Betsy Covington, Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley president and incoming MEEF chairwoman; Gary Gibson, executive assistant to the Muscogee County School District superintendent; Jim Buntin, retired district superintendent and retired TSYS executive; and Rob Ward, senior director for corporate communications at TSYS.

"One part of this program is after you go to Harvard and you have this experience, meeting teachers from all over the world, you come back home and you re-deliver what you have learned," Thomas told the recipients. "That makes not only the teachers that you deal with but the students in Muscogee County get the benefit of this program."

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