Six teachers from the Muscogee County School District will learn new teaching techniques at the Harvard Graduate School of Education this summer, courtesy of the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation.
The foundation announced this year's recipients during a news conference Tuesday afternoon in the Wynnton Arts Academy media center:
Tesharra Alexander, East Columbus Magnet Academy, seventh grade, English
Judy Erb, Wynnton Arts Academy, kindergarten-fifth grade, resource teacher
Wendy Henderson, Arnold Magnet Academy, seventh grade, life science
Mbonya Myers, Marshall Middle School, sixth-eighth grade, engineering and technology
Margie Saunders, Columbus High School, 10th-12th grade, literature and composition, Advanced Placement art history.
Susan Wilson, Blackmon Road Middle School, sixth-seventh grade, math
Erb, Henderson, Myers and Saunders will attend the Project Zero Classroom program July 22-26 at Harvard, where they will learn how to create classrooms, instructional materials and out-of-school learning environments that promote deeper understanding of their curriculum. Alexander and Wilson will attend the Future of Learning program July 30 through Aug. 2 at Harvard, where they will learn how societal changes and technological advancements affect the way students learn.
The foundation sent nine teachers to the Harvard programs last year, the first time Muscogee participated. The all-expenses-paid trips cost approximately $5,000 per teacher.
Northside High School AP literature and AP art history teacher Christine Powell, the 2009 MCSD Teacher of the Year, attended the Future of Learning program last year at Harvard. And that investment already has paid dividends for her students, she said.
"It was completely eye-opening," Powell said. "It shattered every preconceived notion for uses of technology that I perceived."
For example, Powell is almost paperless in the classroom and conducts more online discussions with her students away from the classroom.
"The things I used to spend more time lecturing on," she said, "they do more of that at home."
Powell changed her grading scale to mimic video games. Students earn points to achieve badges as they ascend performance levels.
"It motivates them," she said, then added with a laugh, "but it was a little different perception from parents. It was difficult to change the paradigm for them."
Powell also plans to use technology to connect the students to Europe before she takes them on a trip their this summer.
That's when Myers will attend the Project Zero Classroom program at Harvard. Just as Powell did, she intends to share the learning with her colleagues.
"I hope to learn strategies for improving student achievement, helping them think critically, higher-order thinking skills and also different tools for assessing student learning," Myers said. "The world is changing, so we have to adjust in the way we deliver instruction and the way we assess it."
Myers is the adviser for Marshall's technology student association and helped Alexis McNall and Jaucea Seldon win top awards at the state competition this year.
"The engineering and technology that our students are learning and mastering is so totally different from what we are used to," Myers said. "Most of the job titles the students we are teaching now will have don't even exist yet. So we're teaching skill sets, enduring understanding, that will take them into the future."
The foundation's selection committee chose the teachers to attend Harvard. One hundred teachers were eligible to apply, based on being named a semifinalist for the district's Teacher of the Year award during the past 10 years. The selection committee comprises chairwoman Judy Thomas (Columbus Council), Ian Bond (Columbus Technical College), Gary Gibson (Muscogee County School District), Betsy Covington (Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley), Jim Buntin (retired MCSD superintendent and TSYS executive) and Fray McCormick (Page, Scrantom, Sprouse, Tucker & Ford).
The foundation is a nonprofit organization that has awarded more than $1.5 million to innovative local teachers since it was established 18 years ago. In addition to the Harvard professional development programs, the foundation also supports the district's Teacher of the Year program, grants and an endowment fund.