Amherst College Will Honor High School Teachers at Commencement May 27
April 26, 2007
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—Three secondary school teachers who challenged, inspired and moved members of the Class of 2007 will receive the Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards at Amherst College’s 186th Commencement Exercises at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 27, at the college. The teachers are Jim Cortez, from The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla.; Bob Fenster, from Hillsborough High School in Hillsborough, N.J.; and Joanne McClelland, from Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“American colleges and universities must recognize that the secondary schools matter,” says Anthony W. Marx, the president of Amherst. “Education is the best tool we have for improving the world. Teachers who are willing to take the time to help their students achieve are making a difference in many lives.”
The Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards recognize teachers who have been important in the careers of Amherst students.
Jim Cortez, a chemistry teacher from The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., was nominated by Alexander Bridges of Ponte Vedra, Fla. Bridges admits that Cortez “puzzled and confounded me more than all of my other teachers combined.” He describes Cortez’s classroom as “a three-dimensional habitat for his courses,” and says his teaching style made students “digest the material and struggle with it personally.” Bridges is grateful for this teacher’s influence, to which he attributes his “deepest academic motivations.” “He encouraged me to take personal responsibility for my work, kindling a deeper commitment to my studies and a profound respect for academia.…He taught me that I could study hard and still laugh at myself and stop once in a while to enjoy the ride.”
Bob Fenster, a U.S. history teacher from Hillsborough High School in Hillsborough, N.J., was nominated by Thomas Chen. Chen calls Fenster a “a teacher who opens his students’ minds to multicultural history, a teacher for whose students reading and writing go beyond textbooks and into film, music and the Internet,” and praises his unique multimedia presentation style that employed “PowerPoint, video, music and text all in one class period. With carefully crafted media presentations, Fenster showed the horrors of Nazi Germany, the historical view of hip hop and the reigning power of the Beatles and Bob Dylan.” This history teacher inspired Chen to switch his own career path from law to teaching, in order to follow Fenster’s example of training lawyers and activists. “Fenster embodies the noblest aims of teaching—providing the tools to understand the past and the present, and as a way to make a better future,” Chen said.
Joanne McClelland, an English teacher of AP literature at Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, N.C., was nominated by Samuel Guzzardi. Guzzardi recognizes the profound influence that McClelland has exerted on his life—“Her ‘tough love’ style of sharp commentary delivered with stern but supportive eyes immediately won me over,” he said. “Her message to me was simple and unwavering: with privilege comes responsibility.” Born in a housing project, McClelland used her own success against prejudice to found and lead AVID, the Advancement Via Individual Determination, a program that provides guidance and academic support to first-generation college students. Her unconventional approach to literature through the lens of personal experience has led Guzzardi to create his own interdisciplinary major, Experiential Justice Studies, at Amherst. And McClelland’s motto, “with privilege comes responsibility,” inspired Guzzardi to accept a position with Teach for America to work with fifth-grade Latino students in the Bronx. Guzzardi noted that McClelland’s “tireless insistence that I always do my best has fueled me with the unrelenting sense of dedication and focus to which I attribute my success at Amherst.”
This is the 11th year that Amherst College has presented the award, with which it expresses its appreciation for the profession of teaching. The recipients are chosen by a committee of seniors, faculty and staff from nominations submitted by graduating seniors.