Education

Largest group of Muscogee County teachers going to prestigious Harvard program

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com 
 Ellie Reynolds, 2, reaches for her mother Amanda Reynolds, left, as she and Aaron Cohn Middle School colleague Stephanie Fuerte stand for a photograph after being named a Harvard Fellow, one of 11 Muscogee County School District teachers to receive the fellowhsip from the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation. The teachers will spend one week this summer studying and networking with top professionals in education. The announcement was made Thursday at the Wynnton Arts Academy. 02.18.16
ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Ellie Reynolds, 2, reaches for her mother Amanda Reynolds, left, as she and Aaron Cohn Middle School colleague Stephanie Fuerte stand for a photograph after being named a Harvard Fellow, one of 11 Muscogee County School District teachers to receive the fellowhsip from the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation. The teachers will spend one week this summer studying and networking with top professionals in education. The announcement was made Thursday at the Wynnton Arts Academy. 02.18.16 rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

More teachers than ever from the Muscogee County School District teachers will be treated this year to a prestigious summer program at Harvard University.

The Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation has raised enough money to send 11 MCSD teachers to Project Zero Classroom, July 18-22, at Harvard's Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass.

This year's Harvard Fellows from MCSD are:

  • Marlene Culpepper of Clubview Elementary School
  • Oliver Ellis of Fort Middle School
  • Stephanie Fuerte of Aaron Cohn Middle School
  • Sheryl Green of Jordan Vocational High School
  • Isiah Harper of Northside High School
  • Robert Harris of Jordan Vocational High School
  • Karen McDavid of Midland Academy
  • Amanda Reynolds of Aaron Cohn Middle School
  • Ebony Robinson of North Columbus Elementary School
  • Brandy Sipling of Midland Academy
  • Aleatha Thrush of Britt David Magnet Academy

"I'm excited that I get to go with amazing educators from this district," Harper said. "That is the biggest honor. ... I didn't think that I would have this opportunity to learn with fellow educators that are at the top of the field here but also educators at the top of the field in the world."

It costs about $5,000, including expenses, for each MCSD teacher to attend the program, Marquette McKnight, the foundation's administrator and chief executive officer of Media, Marketing and More, told the Ledger-Enquirer. Combined with the previous four years, MEEF will have invested more than $180,000 to provide 38 teachers some of education's best professional development, she said.

"I thank MEEF so much for allowing us and affording this opportunity," MCSD superintendent David Lewis told Thursday's gathering in the Wynnton Arts Academy library, where the foundation announced this year's Harvard Fellows from the district.

MEEF selected them out of about 45 applicants, McKnight said. The 10 semifinalists from each of the past 10 years in the Teacher of the Year program, which the foundation also runs for the district, are eligible to apply to become Harvard Fellows.

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?

MCSD already is developing an answer to that last question.

Last year's Harvard Fellows periodically have met as a group with Lewis to share ideas about improving education in the district.

"It's been tremendous to be able to share ideas," he said. "It's been two-way communication. Basically, they've served as an informal advisory committee to me."

Those sessions have been so well received, Lewis said, they expanded the group to include all past Harvard Fellows in the district.

"As a result of that," he said, "we have this really neat network of professional educators who are talking about best practices and taking that to another level now."

That level will entail the district's Harvard Fellows conducting model classrooms, where other teachers observe them demonstrating new instructional strategies and techniques, Lewis said.

"It's just remarkable what they can do in their classrooms," said foundation chairwoman Janet Davis, president and CEO of Kinetic Credit Union. "We're just very proud that MEEF can support and reward and give them the opportunities to go to Harvard."

Richards Middle School academic dean Ronda Allen was a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Arnold Magnet Academy when MEEF selected her as one of the district's five Harvard Fellows two years ago.

"Sometimes, in our location of the United States, I feel like we're a little bit behind, and it was great to go and see and hear these very well-known people, like Howard Gardner, talk about the cutting-edge research that's out there," said Allen, a 27-year educator.

One of the concepts Allen learned at Harvard and is helping to spread here is called "gradual release," in which the teacher guides the students to assume increasingly more responsibility for their learning and to spark critical thinking. As opposed to the traditional lecture method, the teacher proceeds from "I do" to "We do" to "You do."

Harper, in his 13th year as a teacher, summed up the program's potential impact this way: "We get to make connections with other educators that we can then bring back to our kids and help them understand the interconnectedness of this world, thereby making them better students, better learners and more engaged in the society and the environment in which they live."

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow him on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.

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