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What's Working in Arkansas - Dedicated Teachers

Photo Courtesy of Michele Easter

I was asked the question, “What is right with education in Arkansas?”  Before I had the privilege to attend Mom Congress, my answer would have been somewhat different, because I didn’t realize how many of the changes being suggested by many wonderful groups had, in fact, already been implemented in Arkansas. Huh!  Who’d have thought that?  Not me.

While I can point to statistics and talk about education as a whole in Arkansas and how it does seem to be on the right track, I want to use this time to focus on two individuals who make an enormous difference in the lives of many children every year.

My children have had the opportunity to attend Carver Magnet Elementary, a local magnet elementary school whose focus is on science and math. It is one of the few elementary schools in our state with “labs” for science, math, astronomy, computers, AND art and music, among others. Our PTA is the only one in the state that designates over $10,000 per year to pay for teachers' stipends and supplies for several after-school “clubs” that offer an awesome array of education-enriching activities, including chess, art, puppet theater, and Destination Imagination. All of these “clubs” are provided at no cost to our students. And, before anyone thinks that our school must be in an affluent area, think again. It is physically located in one of the poorest zip codes in our county and over 80% of our children qualify for free/reduced lunch. But, amazingly, and what is a true testament to the dedication of our teachers, our kids continue to meet AYP.

It is the teachers of the Destination Imagination (DI) teams that I want to focus on today. For more information on DI, please go to their website and check it out. I cannot recommend this program highly enough, and I even had the opportunity to be an “Ap-praise-r” (a.k.a judge) this year for the regional and state tournaments. But, the program wouldn’t be what it is without the incredibly talented and dedicated Team Managers. Our little elementary school this May, out of 3 teams competing, has TWO teams going to the Global Finals competition in Knoxville, TN! There will be over 1000 teams from 20+ different countries competing at Globals and our two teams of 7 elementary kids each, their parents and coaches get to go to this amazing experience.  My daughter’s team won the right to go to Globals last year, and it was a life-altering experience for all of us. But, my point is that without our wonderful and dedicated Team Manager, none of it would have been possible.

The focus of my blog today is on the Team Managers for the two winning teams from Carver this year: Gene Williams and Karen Banks. Both are loved by all children in our school, because they are truly special people.

In addition to being a DI Team Manager at Carver, which requires many hours per week after school, Mrs. Banks is also a 4th grade teacher, works two days a week after school tutoring at-risk students, is on the PTA Board, and she AND her husband both volunteer an incredible amount of their time to both lead committees and work at PTA events and activities. In her classroom she uses a lot of project-based (a.k.a. FUN) learning and works very hard to make sure that each of her students are being challenged on their level. There are no bored students in Mrs. Banks’ class! She also works with a couple of other Carver teachers to apply for grants that improve the lives of all Carver students, and they have been quite successful in their efforts! The students (over 50) that Mrs. Banks teaches through her class, tutoring, and DI, not only gain an increase in their basic subject skills, but also in their critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, team work, and social skills. She sets an incredible example for students, parents, as well as other teachers!

Mr. Williams is also Carver’s science specialist (science lab teacher), and he is not only a full-time teacher and DI team manager, he is also our school’s Chess Club instructor AND leads the entire district’s Chess Club organization. He teaches chess after school two days a week, leads a small band of wonderful volunteers to organize monthly chess tournaments, as well as an end of year Chess Championship. Oh yeah, and he tirelessly volunteers for all PTA events and activities. On top of all of that, just this week he has completed his classes for his graduate degree! Mr. Williams volunteers for at least 15 hours every week at Carver, and his volunteer work enriches the lives of over 80 students each week, and this is just outside of his classroom.  His drive, energy, and enthusiasm serve to not only enrich the lives of all children he interacts with, but also inspires their parents. Mr. Williams also always encourages parents to participate more with both in-school and after school activities, so he increases the volunteerism at Carver, as well! Through science, chess, and DI, Mr. Williams’ teaching not only increases student’s knowledge and love of science, but also their critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, team work, and social skills.

If only we could have schools full of dedicated teachers like Mrs. Banks and Mr. Williams, then our education problems would be resolved. But, you have to absolutely love teaching and not worry about your financial remuneration to do what they do. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Carver is blessed to have many more teachers like these two, but there isn’t enough space to sing everyone’s praises!

It'll be a great day when education gets all the money it wants and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy bombers.  ~Author unknown

Michele Easter is the 2011 Mom Congress delegate from Arkansas. This post is part of a series where delegates from around the country share some of the things that are working well in education in their states. Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments section.