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2009 Class of '54 Commitment to Teaching Awardees
Amherst is proud of its recent graduates who have chosen to teach in urban and other school systems where students may be considered “at risk” or are socio-economically disadvantaged. Through the generosity of the Class of 1954, which has established a Commitment to Teaching Fund, Amherst is able each year to award stipends to a limited number of Amherst graduates who have been teaching for ten years or less.
The 2009 awardee biographies are listed immediately below along with a snapshot of the school they work in--and the 2008 awardees also talk about their teaching.
Julie Abodeely ’99: Silas Dutcher School, Brooklyn, NY (Third Grade):
Julie Abodeely graduated Amherst in 1999 with a degree in Anthropology. After a short stint at Footlocker, she worked at McGraw-Hill Companies in the editorial side of college publishing. She developed titles in the fields of Anthropology and Sociology. In 2004, moved by a powerful ad campaign, Julie applied to the New York City Teaching Fellows. She was accepted and received her Masters of Education from Pace University. She is currently in her fifth year of teaching third grade at PS 124 in Brooklyn. She loves teaching.
School Description: Silas B. Dutcher Elementary School in Brooklyn is a Title 1 school. Almost 90% of the students qualify for federally funded breakfast and lunch. Although only 13 percent of the students are English language learners, most students come from homes that speak languages other than English.
Karen Burns ’02: Vinalhaven School, Vinalhaven, ME (High School English):
If you had asked Karen while she was at Amherst what she was planning to do as a career, teaching wouldn’t have come to mind. She found her way into a classroom accidentally and has never looked back. After graduating Amherst in 2002 with a double major in English and Psychology, Karen worked in Edinburgh, Scotland for a year as a bartender.
After returning to the states, she moved to Vinalhaven Island in Maine to do a fellowship through a nonprofit organization called The Island Institute. Working on the island to create a performing arts program, Karen was surprised to find that the part of her job that she enjoyed the most was the time she spent in the classroom. Inspired by this experience, she attended the University of Maine, Orono, enrolling in the Masters of Arts in Teaching program, where she specialized in Secondary English. After receiving her masters, she moved back to the island and to take the sole High School English position. In addition to teaching English, she is also the National Honor Society advisor, Maine Lap Top Initiative Team Leader, Girls Point of View Book Club advisor, and High School Enrichment Committee Representative.
School Description: Vinalhaven School is a K-12 school-community of 206 students (roughly 15 students in each grade) and 40 staff members. We are located on Vinalhaven Island in Maine, 15 miles off of the midcoast region. Our island has a year-round population of 1300 and is only accessible by a one-hour and fifteen minute ferryboat ride. The ferry only travels six times a day, and the last trip of the day is at 3:15pm during winter months and 4:30pm during the summer. The community of Vinalhaven is built upon the lobster fishing industry. The unusual geography, history and economy of the island create a close, innovative school community. Vinalhaven School operates in a site based management system and has a unique commitment to place-based education.
Eboni Jones '06: Urban Assembly Academy for History and Citizenship, Bronx, NY (High School Chemistry and Health, Head of Science):
Eboni has always had a love for science and children, and spent time at Amherst tutoring students from Mount Holyoke. During her senior year, she took the course “Topics in African American History: Race and Educational Opportunity in America” with Professor Moss, and became engrossed with education in America. She was aware of the historical issues regarding race and education, but was outraged at the current state of the public school system, and how in many states they were on a downward spiral. This class led her to want to do something to help improve the current educational system and so she decided to apply for NYC Teaching Fellows. She subsequently enrolled in the Masters of Science Education program at City College of New York.
Eboni is currently teaching chemistry and health at the Urban Assembly Academy of History and Citizenship (UAAHC), an all-boys high school in the South Bronx. She was fortunate to find a school that has a strong emphasis on Black and Latino culture, and loves to infuse her background in black studies into her curriculum. She is also the head of the science department and serves as advisor for many of her scholars. In addition to teaching, she is a member of the curriculum planning team for the Urban Assembly schools, and is organizing the first career day at UAAHC. She is looking forward to traveling abroad this spring to Costa Rica with a group of scholars.
School Description: At UAAHC our young men are taught the foundations of citizenship: to have respect for themselves and others alongside instruction. History and culture and incorporated in all subjects and is deep rooted in the heart of the school. Our motto is, ‘Retrieve the past in order to create the future,’ and the scholars are aware that knowing one’s history is essential to their success. In order to create a healthy school culture, UAAHC is based upon the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) that derives from the cultural celebration of Kwanzaa. The seven principles are geared toward cultivating character and building community for all members of our school family.
Leah Kaplan '06: P.S.17, Bronx, NY (Middle School Special Education):
While studying psychology and sociology at Amherst, Leah Kaplan developed a strong interested in special education as well as education reform. Upon graduation she joined the New York City Teaching Fellows Program and became a special education teacher at P17, a small middle school in the South Bronx. P17 is a school in New York City’s District 75, which is a citywide district that provides vocational and behavioral support for students who are on the autism spectrum, severely emotionally challenged, and/or multiply disabled.
For the past three years, Leah has been teaching in a classroom with students with emotional disturbances. She is currently the head teacher in an 8:1:1 self-contained classroom (8 students, 1 teacher, 1 assistant teacher). Her students are in the 7th grade, and they are the same students she taught last year in the 6th grade. This small setting makes it possible to provide students with the extra emotional and academic support that they need to successfully achieve their goals. During her time with these students she has been successful in incorporating technology into the classroom in order to provide alternate pathways to academic success. In the past 3 years she has seen at least 5 of her students achieve a level of success that has gotten them out of district 75 and into less restrictive settings, and hopes to help more students achieve this success in the future.
School Description: Public School 17 is an elementary-middle school with 334 students from kindergarten through grade 8. The student body includes 15% English language learners and 110% special education students. Education is provided for students with emotional challenges, learning disabilities and autistic students.
Zeke Phillips ’05: Bronx Leadership Academy II, Bronx, NY (9th Grade English and English Department Co-Coordinator):
Zeke Phillips teaches ninth grade English and co-coordinates the English Department at Bronx Leadership Academy II. While at Amherst, Zeke was an ABC tutor, the chair of Amherst TEACH, and a teacher for Summerbridge Cambridge: A Breakthrough Program. After graduating from Amherst in 2005 with a degree in English, Zeke completed his master's degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and his student teaching practicum at Snowden International High School. He has taught at Bronx Leadership Academy II since 2007.
School Description: Bronx Leadership Academy II is located in the 16th Congressional District, one of America’s poorest communities. In this district, 99% of children live in a high poverty neighborhood; 52% love below the poverty line; 50% live in single-parent households; 22% have difficulty speaking English; 20% will become high school drop-outs; and 20% are not attending school regularly. Bronx Leadership Academy II is working to defy these frightening statistics each and every day.
Renata Robinson ’04: School for Democracy and Leadership, Brooklyn, NY (8th Grade School Social Studies):
Renata has always been on a path to teaching She just didn’t realize it until my junior year at Amherst. Her parents bought her a chalk board at the age of ten and she used to hold classes in my backyard for the neighborhood kids. This bug for teaching became realized when she joined a summer internship program called Citybridge. There she taught students between the ages of 12 to 14 from minority neighborhoods in Boston and Cambridge. This began her love for teaching and commitment to teaching middle school history. At Amherst Renata majored in Spanish and Latin American studies (through the 5 College Certificate Program). After graduating, she entered into the Middle School Education Program at Bank Street College for Education. She also became an assistant kindergarten teacher at Rye Country Day School and then moved on to teach 7th and 8th grade Social Studies in Spanish Harlem at Rafael Cordero Bilingual Academy. Her background in Spanish and Latin American Studies allowed Renata to connect the content of American History to the lives of her students in Harlem.
Renata is currently teaching in Crown Heights Brooklyn in a predominantly Caribbean-American community where she continues to use the experiences she gained from Amherst (living in Charles Drew House, being Black Women’s Group Chair, directing two plays, and organizing a series of events about Caribbean culture) in her career. Her classroom is a place for middle school students to learn how to become independent thinkers. She structures her curriculum to model a discussion-based college-like atmosphere. The goal is to create an environment where high expectations are the norm. She leads the middle school drama program, co-chairs the social studies department, writes the middle school social studies curriculum, and teaches her students about civil rights every day.
School Description: The School for Democracy and Leadership is located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The school is part of the larger campus of the former Wingate High School. It has a small population of 450 students grades 6-12.
Christopher Tsang ’98: Harbor School, Boston, MA (7th and 8th Grade Humanities):
Compelled by his reading of Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities in his "Teaching, Reading and Writing" course at Amherst his freshman year and his experiences taking multicultural literature courses at Amherst and at the Five Colleges, Chris Tsang '98 decided that he needed to do something with his life to rectify the disparities between urban and suburban education. He remembered feeling invisible growing up, not seeing a single Asian American reflected in the books, movies, U.S. history or even posters around his schools, and felt that he wanted to bring the wealth and richness of the multicultural literature to young people at an age when they are wondering about it most in their adolescent development -- during their middle school years!
Chris has been teaching 7th and 8th Grade Humanities at the Harbor School, a Boston Public Pilot School. The Harbor School is an expeditionary learning school whose philosophy is that all work should be connected to real life and we value bringing in outside experts and going on fieldwork to make learning come to life. We have also become a full inclusion school within the past three years. He loves the middle school age and especially sees his role as a male teacher of color at this age as vital.
School Description: The Harbor School is a full inclusion middle school (grades 6-8) and also a Boston Public Pilot School. It is an Expeditionary Learning school whose philosophy is that everything students are taught should have a real world application. The main foci as a school are adventure, craftsmanship, excellence and service. About 70 % of the students qualify for free/reduced lunch.