We Never Stop LEARNING
When school lets out for the summer in just a couple of short months, four teachers at Lee County High School will take a trip to California, but not for vacation.
LCHS teachers Andrew Carucci, Kevin Lubinski, Derek McSorley, and Jerica Morgan have been accepted to Stanford University's Hollyhock Fellowship Program, which aims to “develop transformative professional development programs and generate knowledge about those programs in ways that positively impact instruction, learning, and the profession,” according to its website.
Put more simply, it's a prestigious (only 100 teachers are accepted each year out of thousands of applicants) professional development workshop that will last for two weeks in July. Carucci, Lubinski, McSorley, and Morgan will stay in dormitories on campus at Stanford and receive instruction tailored to their individual fields.
Carucci, a third-year math teacher, said the program is open to teachers between their second and seventh years at high schools with a high rate of free and reduced lunches. He and the others heard about it from Lubinksi, a third-year social studies teacher.
“I got an email about (Stanford Hollyhock) from my old college professor,” Lubinski said. “So I sent out a few emails to see who would be interested in applying.”
McSorley, also a third-year social studies teacher, said the group wrote a number of essays, submitted videos of their teaching and even made a YouTube video as part of the application process.
Morgan, a third-year math teacher, said it's her goal to constantly grow as a teacher (and she's spent her summers growing before – in 2014 she was a Kenan Fellow at N.C. State, studying ways to integrate nanotechnology into high school math curricula).
“In college they prepare you curriculum-wise and content-wise,” she said. “But they never truly prepare you for the reality. Low income schools are a lot different than the rainbows and flowers you get in other places.”
And that reality is exactly what the Hollyhock program seeks to address, she said.
“You've got kids at different levels, but they're in the same class,” she said. “Some are too hungry to focus and some are over achievers. I'm hoping that we can find ways to reach both of them.”
One aspect of the program that will be especially helpful to the teachers in their quest to become better educators is its two-year life span. This year, while they're in their first year of the program, they'll benefit from a cohort of young teachers who entered the program last year. Next year, they'll be in the experienced cohort, passing their advice and knowledge along to a new set of teachers.
Lee County Principal Kenna Wilson said offering teachers opportunities for professional development is important to their growth as educators.
“When these four were finalists, the people at Stanford wanted to talk to me to make sure their principal had the same vision. I told them that these four are already amazing in what they give to the kids, even beyond curriculum,” she said. “They're not just teachers – they're graduation coaches, they're available 24 hours a day by email, they've helped start clubs for kids who've not felt connected in any other way, they've stepped in personal crises in the kids' lives. They go beyond what people think teachers are.”
Carucci said having Wilson support professional development has benefited him and the entire group.
“It's important to have a principal who supports us in finding opportunities to grow,” he said.
“We've gotten unconditional support from Mrs. Wilson from the day we walked in the door,” he said. “If we want to try something in the classroom we've had that opportunity from day one.”
For Morgan, the opportunity to grow as a teacher isn't only important, it's the best way to reach the children she wants to serve.
“Coming into education, especially as a new teacher, it's really important to me that we try to help the kids we're teaching,” she said. “It would be so easy to go into a different school in another place and make more money, but it's important to help the kids where you are.”
For Wilson, the sentiments these teachers display reflect not only why they were chosen for the Stanford Hollyhock Fellowship Program, but also why they're an asset for Lee County as a whole.
“This is why Stanford said these four are going to be four of 100 teachers from across the nation,” she said. “Lee County needs to be very grateful and proud that these four have chosen to be here. I've always tried to give them every opportunity for professional development. If it's what is best for the kids, then they're going to get that opportunity.”