Another group of Muscogee County School District teachers will further their education in a prestigious summer program at Harvard University, thanks to the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation.
MEEF has raised enough money, $48,600, to send nine MCSD teachers to Project Zero Classroom, July 19-23, at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass.
This year’s MCSD Harvard Fellows, announced Thursday in the Wynnton Arts Academy library, are:
▪ Yolanda Arnold of East Columbus Magnet Academy
▪ Nicole Baugh of Double Churches Elementary School
▪ John Cobis of Northside High School
▪ Eric Crouch of Double Churches Elementary School
▪ Carmen Estes of Fox Elementary School
▪ Stefan Lawrence of Carver High School
▪ Akear Mewborn of Kendrick High School
▪ Afton Pownall of Britt David Magnet Academy
▪ Andrea Toole of Blanchard Elementary School.
MEEF, which also conducts MCSD’s Teacher of the Year program, selected these Harvard Fellows among 29 applicants. Each year, 100 teachers are eligible to apply, based on being one of the Teacher of the Year semifinalists in the past 10 years. Combined with the previous five years, MEEF will have invested $243,000 to provide 47 teachers some of the best professional development in education, Marquette McKnight, the foundation’s administrator and chief executive officer of Media, Marketing and More, told the Ledger-Enquirer.
McKnight called it “clearly a sizable investment that MEEF thinks is well worth it, given the incredible maximization we get from the Harvard Fellows once they return and start teaching, demonstrating, leading in their classrooms and with other teachers.”
Project Zero Classroom is designed to help teachers address fundamental educational 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 in student and teacher learning?
▪ How can participants continue to share and pursue their understanding of Project Zero’s ideas with others after the institute?
Those are among the questions for which Toole continues to seek answers, despite being a veteran educator of 25 years, including 12 at Blanchard.
“It makes me feel like a brand-new teacher, because it’s going to give me new ideas,” Toole said of the Harvard fellowship. “It’s like a spark for me. At 25 years, most people think you’re planning for the end, but I’m still planning on how to get better and better.”
That means finding more ways to meet the needs of more students.
“I try to make them exciting,” she said of her lessons. “I try to connect them to their hearts and their minds, more than a worksheet.”
For example, Toole said, she wants to help students who might have a rough life at home rise above such a disadvantage and “just get lost for a moment in a story about someone who struggled during World War II. It kind of gets them to want to learn beyond just the curriculum. … I want to reach every kid.”
MCSD’s Harvard Fellows also benefit the school district beyond their classrooms. They serve on superintendent David Lewis’ teacher advisory committee.
“It’s building a critical mass that really understands and helps to promote some of the initiatives that will improve teaching and learning in our district,” Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer.
Kinetic Credit Union president and chief executive officer Janet Davis is MEEF’s chairwoman. She said in the foundation’s news release, “The Harvard Fellows Program is synergistic with MEEF's mission of rewarding and recognizing excellent teachers. The program is having the desired impact of maximizing MEEF's investment in these teachers. When we send teachers to Harvard, we are giving them an exceptional opportunity to train at the hands of world-renowned leaders in teacher education. The Fellows bring back what they learn and share it with dozens of teachers, impacting thousands of lives.”
In its 21-year history, the MEEF has awarded educators more than $2.1 million through the Harvard Fellows, Teacher of the Year and other programs or grants, McKnight said.