Muscogee County teacher awarded fellowship by international organization

Making a choice to change lives

Double Churches Elementary School teacher is a product of the Muscogee County School District. He was recently honored as a 2016 Milken Educator Award winner
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Double Churches Elementary School teacher is a product of the Muscogee County School District. He was recently honored as a 2016 Milken Educator Award winner

A Muscogee County School District teacher has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from an international education organization.

The Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes announced Wednesday that Double Churches Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Eric Crouch is one of six 2017 LMC Fellows.

“Eric is full of enthusiasm, energy and dedication,” LMC executive director Norm Conard said in a news release. “He fits the mold of a Lowell Milken Center Fellow. He is one of the finest young teachers in America.”

The LMC Fellowship is awarded to “educators who have distinguished themselves in teaching respect and understanding through project-based learning or who have the potential for this distinction,” the news release says. The fellowship’s purpose is to “collaborate on projects that discover, develop and communicate the stories of unsung heroes in history.”

Crouch, who started his career as a first-grade teacher at Double Churches, helped 100 percent of his students during those five years meet or exceed goals in reading, writing, math, science and social studies, according to the news release.

“His innovative ways of encouraging students to meet their educational goals and the celebrations of their accomplishments resulted in his first-graders reading more than 35 million words and checking our nearly 50,000 books,” the news release says.

Eric Crouch
Eric Crouch, shown during a December 2016 interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, is a fifth-grade teacher at Double Churches Elementary School. MIKE HASKEY

This school year, he moved to fifth grade at Double Churches – and his students’ success continued as he “creatively found ways to prepare his students to meet the rigor of state standards, helping 12 of his 13 below-tier students to reach those standards,” the news release says.

No wonder, in November, Crouch was among the 35 U.S. educators to receive one of the 2016 Milken Educator Awards, considered the “Oscars of Teaching,” which includes a prize of $25,000.

“Eric has been a strong advocate for technology in the classroom, using it both for learning and to build bridges with families,” the news release says. “In an effort to provide adequate technology for his students, he funded more than 50 projects through and received donations from Target, News Corp, and ESPN, enabling his classrooms to have photographic equipment, standing desks, iPads, and a 3-D printer. Eric has led workshops for teachers in the Muscogee County School District, has taught ‘Technology in the Classroom’ as a guest instructor at Columbus State University, is a member of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s Teacher Advisory Committee, and is a member of Georgia Schools Superintendent Richard Woods’ Teacher Advisory Panel.”

Crouch also is among nine MCSD teachers the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation selected as its 2017 Harvard Fellows to attend professional development classes July 19-23 at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass.

But before that, Crouch will spend the week of June 18 in Fort Scott, Kan., where he will collaborate with the LMC staff.

“While in Fort Scott, LMC Fellows gain knowledge, educational resources and ongoing support to enhance their classrooms and help students cultivate a passion for learning by creating projects that initiate positive change,” the news release says. “Fellows emerge prepared to develop Unsung Heroes projects with their students as they apply and evaluate the stories of role models who have changed the world throughout history.”

In an interview Wednesday night with the Ledger-Enquirer, Crouch said, “Sometimes blessings just sneak up on you and find you.”

That’s because, as with the Milken Educator Award, Crouch didn’t apply for this honor.

“You can’t apply,” he said. “They find people they think are a great fit.”

The fellowship includes all expenses paid for travel and during the week, plus $2,000, Crouch said. He is one of six chosen from around the world.

“The people that are going are unbelievable,” he said. “There’s a national teacher of the year, a state teacher of the year, a lady from Uganda, an international teacher of the year. It’s just an awesome opportunity to see how they solve problems, how they take the narrative and change it so we help our students learn that there are other ways to look at history.”

Crouch will see one of those ways up close and personal when, in July, he joins another group sponsored by LMC and travels to Poland for 10 days, including a visit the European Lowell Milken Center, where the story of unsung hero Irena Sendler is told.

Sendler was a Catholic social worker who smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust. Crouch’s group will meet some of those children, now adults, saved by Sendler.

“I’ll get to see a person who wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for an unsung hero,” he said.

Asked how this opportunity will help the Muscogee County School District, Crouch said, “My hope is to be able to take what I learn from there and redeliver it, maybe mentor other teachers and show them in a model classroom, take it from a project to project-based learning. So when we’re learning about World War II, it’s not just Hitler and FDR but also people students can relate to. When students are self-motivated, they’re going to learn more. When they find the stories that aren’t told, there’s power in storytelling. Then we can create rubrics and lesson plans for people to follow.”