Amherst College to Honor Three Former Teachers of Graduating Seniors with Swift Moore Teaching Awards May 22

May 16, 2011               

AMHERST, Mass. — Three secondary school instructors who challenged, inspired and moved members of Amherst College’s Class of 2011 will be honored with the Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards during the school’s 190th Commencement exercises at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 22. This year’s recipients include Clark Ginapp, an English teacher formerly of Holyoke High School in Holyoke, Colo.; Robert Hepner, a math teacher at Melvindale High School in Melvindale, Mich.; and Linda Linville, a retired history teacher and International Baccalaureate coordinator for Centennial High School in Corona, Calif.

The honor recognizes instructors and counselors who have been important in the lives of graduating Amherst students. The winners are chosen by a committee of seniors, faculty and staff from nominations submitted by members of the Class of 2011.

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According to former student Jes-c Brandt, one of Clark Ginapp’s best traits is that he works hard to connect with all of his pupils. “He was a great teacher to everyone who entered the classroom, but he was especially helpful to those high school kids sometimes called misfits,” Brandt wrote in her nomination of Ginapp for the award. “Since he also directed the high school dramas, he was always encouraging shy or awkward students to come out of their shells.” In the classroom, he pushes his pupils to pay close attention to the texts they study and record their thoughts in a journal, which isn’t the easiest assignment for some. “Details weren’t just important in reading,” Brandt noted, “but also in our writing.” She said she realized in retrospect that “his teaching was never just about making sure students had read Shakespeare or knew how to diagram a sentence. He teaches kids how to learn, how to appreciate knowledge and how to function in life… In that way, he was the high school teacher who best prepared me for college.”

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Like Brandt, nominator Rachel Hamalainen was profoundly touched and influenced by her former instructor’s broader philosophy about teaching. A 30-plus-year veteran of a small, public school in a low-income suburb of Detroit that has a high dropout rate, low standardized test scores and little to no state funding, math teacher Robert Hepner maintains extremely high standards and has never lowered the bar for a single pupil, Hamalainen said. “He will stay after school with you for hours to tutor you in things you don’t understand,” she explained. “He will give you an insanely difficulty extra credit assignment to help boost your grades so that you can at least pass his class and graduate. But he makes it clear: ‘Your grade is up to you. Your success is up to you. Your life is up to you. I’m just here to help.’” This refusal to believe nothing but the best of his students makes him popular among young people, even though his classes are difficult. His pupils—and the community—are better for it in the long run, Hamalainen concluded: “Mr. Hepner told me countless times over the two years he taught me to continue to push myself, to excel, to make it out of Melvindale so that I could learn more and bring it back to help those around me.” At Hepner’s urging, she has accepted a position with Teach for America to teach math in Detroit after graduating from Amherst. “Those kids need you,” Hepner told her when she was contemplating the job offer. “This is your chance to pay it forward, to help students like you go on to achieve what you have done.”

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For aspiring historian Gregory Campeau, former teacher Linda Linville instilled in him a healthy skepticism and drive to examine and question the past, not just take the stories and opinions of others at face value. Campeau said he first learned that when he turned in an assignment that Linville considered an ad hominem attack on a particular historian, not an evaluation of the historian’s arguments. “History is not a definitive story, she told me, but a million tall tales and a few quiet honest ones and a thousand in between,” Campeau wrote in his nomination of Linville. “My job was to sift through the legends of great men and ponder at what cost their greatness came.” Needless to say, Campeau said he left that tough discussion with his teacher shaken. “Well, it was precisely what I need to hear,” he commented. “Indeed every responsible and thoughtful citizen, Ms. Linville taught me, ought to be an historian, investigating and inquiring.” Linville was the first person at school Campeau told of his acceptance to Amherst, and he continues to meet her for coffee when he returns to his hometown to this day. “Though she has recently retired from full-time teaching after decades of service,” he said, “she is still very much and will always be a teacher of truths, one of those rare persons whose life is poured out with passion, determination and joy in deference to an ideal that so may have given up on: powerful, principled, public education.”

The Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards are named for the first president of Amherst and his wife. This is the 14th year that the college has presented the awards.

Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with nearly 1,700 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B. A. degree in 36 fields of study. 

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