May 7, 2012
AMHERST, Mass. — Three secondary school instructors who challenged, inspired and moved members of Amherst College’s Class of 2012 will be honored with the Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards during the school’s 191st Commencement exercises at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 20. This year’s recipients are Alexis Nogelo Dekel, a math teacher previously at Pittsfield High School in Pittsfield, Mass., and currently at The Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School in Adams, Mass.; Jacson Lowe, a psychology teacher and baseball coach at Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough, N.C.; and Eyal Wallenberg, a math teacher at The Urban Assembly School for Law & Justice in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The honor recognizes instructors and counselors who have been important in the lives of graduating Amherst students. The winners were chosen by a committee of seniors, faculty and staff from nominations submitted by members of the Class of 2012.
Nominator Robert Todd Volkman was in Alexis Nogelo Dekel’s math class during his sophomore year at Pittsfield High School. He remembers her classroom as a “safe and happy,” colorfully decorated place full of hundreds of books, “a small home she had built where we would have everything … we needed to be good, complete and knowledgeable people.” Volkman wrote that his teacher always “seemed to have her finger on the pulse of the class,” responding to both the academic and the emotional struggles of her students. Eventually, Dekel invited Volkman to begin assisting his peers who were having more trouble with the material—and in helping them, he wrote, he developed his own more complete and multifaceted understanding. Dekel helped her students start a Math Dance Club, wherein “we improvised movement that reflected mathematical concepts in dance.” And when, as a senior, Volkman became part of her nine-person Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus class, she sometimes “invited us as a group to her home [to study], giving up nights and weekends to ensure that we were prepared. At so many times and in so many ways, she went above and beyond what the school, the state, the AP board and even we expected of her. The only repayment she requested was our trust and that we fulfill our own expectations.”
Conny Morrison wrote, in her nomination, that she first witnessed Jacson Lowe’s legendary humor and enthusiasm at her high school’s pep rallies and assemblies, where Lowe was master of ceremonies: “He was always full of energy and ready to do whatever it took to get every student involved in the event taking place.” Later, Morrison enrolled in Lowe’s AP Psychology course, where she enjoyed “his dynamic lectures, activities that rarely left us in our seats” and group projects, such as designing toys appropriate to the different developmental stages of infants. The teacher was always able, at a moment’s notice, to illustrate psychological concepts using current events from his own life and goings-on around the school, and he even maintained his own website full of worksheets and helpful links for his students. “His class was both fun and informative and, thanks to his creative techniques, years later I can still explain most of the psych theories we learned,” Morrison wrote. During Morrison’s senior year, Lowe put his energy into coordinating the school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, not only teaching IB History of the Americas and IB Psychology, but also creating an “IB boot camp” and inaugurating an annual IB Exhibition Night to showcase student work.
Tahina Vatel wrote that when she emigrated from Haiti and enrolled in The Urban Assembly School for Law & Justice, she was uneasy about the unfamiliar—and sometimes violent—culture of New York City youth. But she felt safe at her inner-city school, thanks to teachers such as her nominee, Eyal Wallenberg: “All chaos was left at the door of Mr. Wallenberg’s classroom.” That math classroom is “an environment in which nothing but the best behavior and work ethic is tolerated from his students,” Vatel wrote. “He believes that we could do better than what statistics might suggest and, in some cases, better than we expect of ourselves.” With a “student-teaching-student” model of instruction, “Mr. Wallenberg was always present in the classroom, but we learned to ask for help only when we needed it, giving us a great sense of independence. He empowered us to do what we had to do for ourselves in order to take ownership of our education.” Vatel appreciates the way that Wallenberg connected with his students through humor and introduced them to new and exotic foods, music and travel opportunities. “All of this made us want to explore more than what we grew up with and what we were used to,” she wrote. “Because of him, I decided I wanted to go away for college.” And it was Wallenberg’s guidance that jump-started Vatel’s career as a producer of award-winning documentaries.
The Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards are named for the first president of Amherst and his wife and started in 1997.
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.