Band Director, Williamsville East High School, East Amherst, New York
“Creativity is the most underrated activity in education.”
It takes a special teacher to get high school students excited about poetry. Getting them really excited about poetry sometimes takes a music teacher. When Stephen Shewan, a music teacher at Williamsville East High School, aligned forces with John Kryder, an English teacher, they found a way to draw such artistic passion out of their students that other school districts have taken notice.
Their joint effort, Collaborations and Connections, Celebrations of Poetry, Music, Dance and Art is a layered and integrated program that engages students in creating artistic responses to poetry.
The approach fosters creativity and teamwork between students. During the school year, students compose music, create artwork and choreograph dances based on the poetry of students as well as the poetry of major American poets. Guest poets have included such luminaries as Ted Kooser, Nikki Giovanni, Robert Pinsky, Sharon Olds and Billy Collins.
“John and I have learned that kids will always surprise us,” says Shewan. “Whether they’re from the suburbs or the inner city, they’ll meet high expectations that are offered in appropriate, sensible and galvanizing ways — the ways that art helps to offer them.”
Since its inception in 2000, Collaborations and Connections has expanded from a high school classroom project to a districtwide, yearlong K-12 program with more than 1,500 students involved. The program also made Shewan and Kryder national winners of the College Board’s Award for Excellence and Innovation in the Arts. Their program now culminates with 300 students taking the stage in a single-night performance event.
Shewan believes that, given the right encouragement, all kids can rise to the challenge once they’re given a chance. “Creativity is the most underrated activity in education,” Shewan says. “Our nation’s success depends on having creative minds initiate new products and services by looking at something that exists and asking, how can I make this different?”
Read about other winners of the Award for Excellence and Innovation in the Arts.
Student, Green Run High School, Virginia Beach, VA
"I figured I would go to high school, get good grades and do whatever I wanted to do. Then I realized there was this huge gap ... college."
Amber Martinez always knew she wanted a successful career when she grew up — she just didn’t know what career she wanted. Sometimes, she says, “I wanted to be everything: the president, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a news caster. To use a Navy reference, I was in need of an anchor.”
Amber knows about the Navy; she has grown up in a military family. That meant plenty of re-stationing and uprooting. At 17, she’s attended seven schools. “I have friends who come and go a lot because their parents are in the military,” she says.
Now a senior at Green Run High School in Virginia Beach, a 2010 Inspiration Award–winning school, Amber says, “Despite the constant support of my father, mother and brother, I never really felt settled and secure in one school or community until I arrived at Green Run.”
That’s where her plans shaped up. A school counselor helped her understand that she would need to tailor her education to her career ambition — and then toe the line and work toward that goal.
“I figured I would go to high school, get good grades and go do whatever I wanted to do; then I realized there was this huge gap ... college. I have to go to college to do what I want to do and get the education to be what I want to be.”
Her program required that she take the PSAT/NMSQT in her freshman, sophomore and junior years. She took the SAT last June and again in December. She has also taken honors English for four years and is finishing up her fourth AP class. “The course work was a challenge, but I expected it because it’s college work, so I guess you have to be on it all the time.” Amber also had to rearrange her priorities because she had a lot of after-school activities.
Still, she feels it was worthwhile because it prepared her for what comes next.
“With the support of Green Run, I feel well-equipped to walk across the stage on June 16 and step onto a college campus in the fall of 2011.” Now that she’s plotted her course, Amber plans to pursue her dream of becoming a drug enforcement agent — right after college.
Student, Penn Manor High School, Millersville, Pennsylvania
“I find physics really interesting because with a handful of equations, you can explain how the world works. That idea is just amazing.”
Benjamin Clark, a 15-year-old senior at Penn Manor High School in Millersville, Pa., studies star formation. And that's putting it mildly. His avid pursuit of the subject led to his winning the $100,000 grand prize in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology for research that sheds new light on how stars are created.Benjamin’s love of math began early. “As long as I remember, I’ve really enjoyed math. I just like the precision,” he says. When Benjamin was in kindergarten, his dad started playing math games with him. It wasn’t long before simple addition gave way to algebra and more advanced problems.In 10th grade, Benjamin took AP Physics. “I really enjoyed it — just the idea of learning how everything worked ... the stars, the galaxies, a large-scale structure like the universe.” Last year, he became interested in binary star systems, where two stars orbiting each other are held together by a common center of mass.Deciding he needed a mentor outside the walls of his school, Benjamin contacted the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University, where he found Cullen Blake, who offered to work with him.About 700 hours of research went into the resulting project, which required the creation of simulations to demonstrate that binary stars make up 3 percent of the “M dwarf star” population.“I find physics really interesting because with a handful of equations, you can explain how the world works. That idea is just amazing,” he says.Although paying for college just became much easier, Benjamin says that he isn’t sure yet where he wants to go. He’s waiting to hear from all of the colleges he applied to. Wherever he heads, Benjamin’s life will likely include music, friends and Frisbee.
Senior Advisor for Economic Access, Ohio State University
"Once I encountered financial aid, it quickly became my calling."
Tally Hart has dedicated her life to helping students go to college. As a newly minted graduate student, she had planned to become an academic adviser, but the career she found helped students in another way. “Once I encountered financial aid,” she says, “it quickly became my calling.” Hart’s mother went to college with a full scholarship, but had to get a job and send money home to keep the family farm together. That sacrifice is “the reason that there was never a discussion of if I go to college, there was only a when and where.”Over the years, the crosscurrents of academic progress and student aid have continued to be Hart’s focus. Four years ago, the Ohio State University, faced with the prospect of her retirement, created a new position. The former director of financial aid became senior adviser for economic access.“It’s been my dream job,” Hart says. “We pilot and test ideas and then move them into the public domain.”“Our successes are in learning more about very low-income families and what information they need — and in what sequence they need it — to really inspire them to send their children to college, and more importantly, to prepare their children to go to college.” Hart believes fourth and fifth grades are the right times for the delivery of aid information.As for the standard sequence — preparation, admission and then financial aid — Hart says it doesn’t work. When families get to the point of understanding financial aid, they want to rethink admission possibilities that might be within their reach. “That notion of having financial aid concepts precede admission discussions has, I think, been really, really important, as we’ve been able to demonstrate,” Hart says. Another surprise she encountered were the families who “learned that it was possible for their children to go to college, and then decided that mom or dad could go to college, too.”One of Hart’s goals is to apply research scrutiny to the solutions she and her colleagues propose so that their efforts are based on empirical evidence. As a result, Hart has sought context for her work. She says, “It fits right in the center of the activities of the College Board’s Commission on Access, Admissions and Success in Higher Education. It’s in perfect alignment.”“We’re able to focus on our work using the breadth of the work of the larger initiative so that we can describe not only what we do locally but how that contributes nationally and globally.”
Social Studies Teacher, World Journalism Preparatory: a College Board School, Queens, N.Y.
"I’m a high-end user of technology now, and I’ve seen what it can do and how it’s changed my entire work life."
Alejandro Sosa considers himself a high-end technology user, but that has not always been the case. Now in his third year as a teacher, he concedes that initially he was not prepared to harness technology’s power for his classroom.
Sosa teaches 11th-grade global studies and AP World History at World Journalism Preparatory in Queens, N.Y., one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the country. The school, a small New York City school affiliated with the College Board, serves students in grades 6−12.
His classes are fast-paced and focused, with students hammering away on laptops as they write and research. The school-issued computers are an example of World Journalism’s commitment to keeping classes connected, says Sosa, who also credits the school’s principal with helping him get up to speed during his first weeks.
Now armed with his own website and accompanying calendars, Sosa encourages students to visit the site often to note upcoming test dates, how long they have for their projects, when specific assignments are due and if they should be reviewing certain pages in books.
Students can check on their progress in the classroom, too. “They can see what grade they have received on an essay or test. It’s also a great way to communicate with parents. I can enter in all their grades in maybe 20 minutes and then e-mail all the parents and all the students,” Sosa says.
It’s this combination of using technology to manage, teach and assess that Sosa sees as most beneficial.
“The fact that we have professional development sessions every single week for two hours is huge,” Sosa says. “It’s teachers teaching teachers, and I can tell you that makes a big difference … there’s much more respect.”
Sosa believes that most professional development should start with these tools. “I’m a high-end user of technology now, and I’ve seen what it can do and how it’s changed my entire work life.”
Read more about teachers advocating for innovative use of technology in the classroom.
Student, College Board Student Advisory Council
"I found great satisfaction and joy in that I have helped not only a student but also a family by simply sharing information."
Seo Eva Kim may not realize it, but she is becoming a citizen of the world. Born in Korea, growing up in an Atlanta suburb and now studying Russian in the northeastern United States, she has learned that what makes her passionate about learning is culture and history. Most of all, she believes that she has a responsibility to try to improve things for others.
Because of her background, she says she understands “the numerous difficulties facing immigrant student populations such as language and cultural barriers, lack of parent participation in schools and having an identity crisis.”
There are a lot of immigrant students where she went to high school. The parents of these students weren’t exposed to the American education system. Although they cared greatly about the success of their children, no one had explained to them in a way they could understand what their children needed to do in high school to get ready for successful careers.
Seo Eva Kim did something about it. She formed the Korean Student Association (KSA), a service organization in which Korean students who are fluent in both English and Korean help new immigrant Korean students adjust to the American school system through personal academic tutoring and mentoring.
One of the KSA’s most successful events was a bilingual parent-student conference at which AP course student representatives, college representatives, school counselors and student translators reached out to bridge the barriers faced by parents and students for whom the American school system was strange and different, she says.
Because of her outspoken leadership and insights, Seo Eva Kim’s high school counselor nominated her for the College Board’s Advisory Panel on Student Concerns.
She didn’t know what to expect at first. “What really surprised me is that the College Board is something beyond SAT and AP, what we are exposed to. The organization does something really inspiring about education, about advocacy and branching out into the world. I think that part is really moving. It’s broad and visionary.”
Branching out into the world is something Seo Eva Kim is doing, too.
Dean of Students, Brookline High School, Massachusetts; College Board Trustee
"When a student sees someone who looks like him, he thinks, if that person can achieve, I can achieve, too."
Adrian Mims saw something at his school that disturbed him, and he decided to do something about it. But he knew he couldn’t do it alone.
As dean of students and mathematics teacher at Brookline High School, he grew concerned about the low number of African American students enrolling and persisting in calculus.
After studying the transcripts of incoming students and their scores in honors geometry, he found that many of the African American students had withdrawn from honors geometry to take standard geometry.
Mims devised a plan to help students prepare for rigorous math courses and stay in them through to completion. He invited rising eighth-graders to participate in summer “preview” courses to provide them with skills and confidence going into the academic year.
As a first-generation college graduate, Mims understood the importance of having strong role models in education, so he recruited African American students who had completed the same course successfully to serve as teaching assistants.
“When a student sees someone who looks like him,” Mims says, “and has some of their same experiences, that conveys to the student, if that person can achieve, I can achieve, too.”
He also recommended that the African American students be placed in the same honors section for the coming year, to offer “positive peer pressure” to keep them enrolled.
Although the program initially met with some resistance, his principal stood firm in allowing the experiment to move forward. Mims says he’s hoping to track the students through their high school careers and find other innovative ways to improve their achievement.
Student at an Inspiration Award–Winning School
"I promised myself, and the woman, that my life’s mission would be one of service to the poor."
Ashlee spent most of her life in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a world she describes as full of “cramped houses, unpaved streets and an adoring mother.” One experience has been indelibly seared in her mind. As a small child, she encountered a poor woman lying on the roadside begging for help. The woman was terribly disfigured.
“At five years of age, I was blessed not to have known about cancer and its devastating effects. From the moment my mother pulled me away, I knew I would never forget the woman I couldn’t help. I promised myself, and the woman, that my life’s mission would be one of service to the poor,” Ashlee says.
Five years ago, her mother agreed to let Ashlee come to the United States so she would have better opportunities. Ashlee lives with an aunt who, despite the enormous economic hardships, has cared for her and filled her home with love, understanding and encouragement, especially when it comes to her education.
Since coming to the U.S., Ashlee has not only mastered English, but also French and Mandarin Chinese. In addition, she has become an AP Scholar, earning a grade of 3 or above on AP U.S. History, AP Physics B and C: Mechanics, and AP English. This year she is taking four AP classes. Her goal is to do research in biochemistry and find a cure for cancer.
“Many people have stated that this dream is far-fetched, but I view it as practical. It is practical to maintain the longevity of human life, to ease the pain and suffering in humanity, to help someone when they have asked for help. Who else will do it if not me? I am here, I wish to do it, so why can’t I? I believe in the possibilities of the human endeavor and spirit. Medgar [Evers College Prep High School] has taught us that the sky is the limit and the possibilities are endless.”
Learn more about the Inspiration Awards.