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Elementary, Secondary Teachers Highlighted at Williams College's Olmsted Breakfast
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
02:56PM / Tuesday, May 29, 2018
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Educators from around North County gather at Williams College's Faculty House on Tuesday morning for the annual Olmsted Awards breakfast.

Williams College's interim President Tiku Majumder addresses Tuesday morning's breakfast.

Adams-Cheshire Superintendent Robert Putnam tells how the grant helped the school district's Lead the Way program.

BArT Principal April West says the Olmsted grant the school received was used toward developing a science fair program and cultural competency training for faculty.

Lanesborough Elementary teacher Anna Mello explains how their school's grant was used toward faculty team building.

McCann Tech's grant allowed several teachers to attend a conference on technology in the classroom. Teacher Erin Mucci says they are now sharing what they learned with colleagues.

Mount Greylock Regional School teacher Dan Louis explains how that school's grant helped create a robotics club for all six grades.

North Adams Public School's literacy coordinator Kimberlee Chappell tells the gathering about the school district's new language arts program funded through the grant.

Williamstown Elementary's Tom Welch, teacher and technology director, says last year's grant went toward a Chromebooks program and this year's will be used for emotional learning workshops for students and parents.


WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — As a Harvard Ph.D. in atomic physics, a fellow in the American Physical Society and, currently, interim president of arguably the nation's top liberal arts college, Tiku Majumder has accomplished a lot.
 
But at some level, he is still trying to satisfy his high school English teacher.
 
"For me, as totally a math/science kid from fairly early on, admittedly, surprisingly the teacher I think about more than any other is my high school English teacher," Majumder said Tuesday morning at the annual William College breakfast honoring recipients of the college's Olmsted Awards for Faculty and Curricular Development. "Mrs. Soffer taught me both junior and senior year AP English at Northampton High School.
 
"Hers were the hardest classes by far and, more important, offered the biggest intellectual challenge I've ever faced. I worked really, really hard for her, and, as I recall, she never gave me an A. I don't know why, but that sticks in my mind. … She always had positive things to say but also lots of constructive comments about how things could be better.
 
"She met with every student to talk about their work, their high school experience, how life was going, their aspirations for life after high school. I didn't take much English after this … but I still feel today that my writing, my literacy and, indeed, my analytical skills benefit more from her than anyone I can point to. I have to say, when I read or hear the phrase, 'from whence,' or 'irregardless,' I still see Mrs. Soffer frown."
 
It was all smiles on Tuesday at the college's Faculty Club, where seven North County public schools were recognized for their past and future use of $5,000 annual grants that the college initiated in 1993.
 
Faculty members, administrators and school committee members from the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School, Lanesborough Elementary School, McCann Technical School, Mount Greylock Regional School, North Adams Public Schools and Williamstown Elementary School gathered to share initiatives at their schools that have been supported by the grants.
 
Programs range from implementing new curricula in the classroom to co-curricular activities to offering professional development opportunities for teachers and staff.
 
At Hoosac Valley Middle School, the Olmsted grant is funding the implementation of Project Lead the Way, which promotes hands-on, student-centered instruction in the STEM [science technology, engineering and math] curriculum.
 
"We've been trying to reorganize ourselves in a way that changes the way we do business," Adams-Cheshire Superintendent Robert Putnam said. "This Olmsted grant is something that will help accomplish that.
 
"Project Lead the Way was chosen by Mass STEM Hub as a premiere STEM curriculum and professional development provider. … This is all part of preparing students for our biomedical science program, which is going to be focused in Grades 9 through 12."
 
In North Adams, last year's grant helped research and adopt a new English language arts program at the elementary school level, explained Kimberlee Chappell, the district's literacy coordinator.
 
At BArT, last year's grant helped the science team collaborate on a guide to creating science fair projects that students can use to help make it a more enriching exercise, Principal April West said. The Adams school also used Olmsted funds to support a professional development program in cultural competency for staff.
 
"At present, about a quarter of our students are students of color, which, for Berkshire County, is rather diverse," West said. "We've been having increased student diversity over the last five to seven years, and in an era of Black Lives Matter, [cultural competency] has gained greater importance."
 
McCann Tech science teacher Erin Mucci talked about the benefits of being able to send herself and other faculty to the International Society for Technology in Education conference in Texas, a trip funded by the Olmsted grant. Mucci said the conference attendees came back with knowledge about implementing technology in the classroom that they are passing along to McCann Tech colleagues at twice-weekly workshops.
 
Tom Welch, the technology director at Williamstown Elementary School, said he has seen the benefits of the Olmsted grants since their inception. Most recently, the college's grant has helped WES implement a 1-to-1 Chromebook program in the fourth grade. In the 2018-19 school year, the school plans to use the funds to focus on emotional learning, offering workshops for staff and parents.
 
At Mount Greylock, the grant has helped foster the middle-high school First Robotics club, allowing students from all six grades to work toward regional competitions in Worcester, Connecticut and New York.
 
Those competitions not only teach lessons in problem-solving and programming but also foster teamwork, teacher Dan Louis explained.
 
"That word on the slide, 'Cooperatition,' is not a typo," he said, referring to the neologism that combines competition and cooperation. "You're competing against teams but also working together with them. That's a big part of the skills."
 
Lanesborough Elementary teachers focused on their cooperative skills in a team-building trip to Ramblewild adventure park before the current academic year, third-grade teacher Anna Mello said.
 
"It was the best day ever," she said of the experience funded by the Olmsted grant. "It was really fun but also really challenging. Our principal is afraid of heights, and he planned this. He was terrified, and he did the whole thing.
 
"It was such a great, meaningful experience for all of us. I learned a lot about myself."
 
On Tuesday, Majumder said, the staff from all the North County public schools had a chance to learn a little about each other — one more benefit from the Olmsted program.
 
While the area schools benefit from the college's grants, the symbiotic relationship between Williams and the public schools goes deeper, he noted, pointing to the successful program of putting college students in the classroom.
 
"These students learn so much from you, the professionals in this room, as they volunteer in the schools, learning from your examples and, in many cases, being inspired to pursue their own careers in education," Majumder said.
 
"It's a program I remember very, very vividly as my kids were at Williamstown Elementary. They loved the Williams students from 15 years ago coming in for a couple of hours and reading or working on math or whatever it was. It was a wonderful thing that I now appreciate was equally wonderful for the elementary students, the Williams students and, hopefully, for the teachers."
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