Williams Celebrates Olmsted Awards for Local Schools
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — In a year filled with ongoing discussions about "budgets and buildings," local educators still have managed to direct their time, attention and talents to where it matters most.
"It's about our kids," Williams College President Adam Falk told a crowd of local teachers and administrators who joined Williams staff at a breakfast to celebrate the local 2016 Bicentennial Olmsted Awards for Faculty Development last week. "You really have focused on educating our students."
The local Olmsted Awards are funded by an endowment from the estates of Williams alum George Olmsted Jr., class of 1924, and his wife, Frances. The awards were established in 1993, on the occasion of Williams' bicentennial celebration. They are an extension of the national Olmsted Prizes, which are administered each year to secondary school teachers from around the country.
This year, Olmsted Awards went to Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School, Brayton Elementary School in North Adams, Lanesborough Elementary School, McCann Technical School, Mount Greylock Regional School, and Williamstown Elementary School. Each school will receive $5,000 for professional and curricular development projects.
Not only did representatives from each of the districts come to the May 25 breakfast to accept the awards this year, they also came to give short presentations on how their schools used last year's Olmsted Award money, so that Williams could see firsthand how the grants were being put to use.
This coming year, Adams-Cheshire will use its Olmsted Award to hire two consultants and purchase the book "Teaching with Poverty in Mind" by Eric Jensen for the C.T. Plunkett School. Faculty at the school will work with the consultants to develop a plan to foster a safe, healthy, positive, and inclusive whole-school learning environment that enables students to develop positive relationships with adults and peers, regulate their emotions and behavior, achieve academic and non-academic success in school, and maintain physical and psychological health and well-being.
Last year the district used the grant to improve instruction for English Language Learners (ELL).
This year, BArT's Olmsted grant will support three projects. The first will provide Spanish lessons for 18 faculty and staff members, to enable better communication and help build strong family-teacher partnerships among the school's increasingly diverse community. The second project will fund workshops for teachers in a technology education program called Web-Enriched Classroom (WEC). The third project is a new support group for teachers who are also administrators at the school.
Last year BArT used the money to digitize student portfolios, adapt the school's science curriculum to the new Next Generation Science Standards and create new teacher support groups run by a trained facilitator. These groups will provide a space where teachers can acknowledge the emotions and frustrations they encounter in their work, and create plans of action to address these feelings.
This year, Brayton will use its Olmsted grant to support continued training for teachers in the "Leader in Me" program, which incorporates leadership skills into the curriculum. The grant will allow Brayton to bring national Leader in Me educators and trainers to work with staff to increase student skills and self-confidence, improve academics, and decrease discipline referrals.
Last year, North Adams Public Schools started "The Leader in Me" program at Brayton and enhanced curriculum development training for the district's secondary teachers, in particular those who teach Advanced Placement courses in science, math, English, and social studies, in an effort to boost participation in AP classes, particularly among at-risk students.
For Lanesborough and Williamstown elementaries this year, the awards will help support their collaborative focus on STEM and provide a three-day professional development experience focusing on teaching math. The program will include ways to reinforce a deeper understanding of math, improve number fluency, use a student's developmental age to increase learning, teach understanding and accuracy in mental and written math, and engage students in active discourse in the Common Core classroom. A portion of the grant also will support stipends for curriculum development over the summer and outside of school hours next year to help the schools transition to the new Massachusetts science standards.
Last year, both schools sent teachers from each school, along with the principals, technology coordinators, and other administrators, to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) national conference in Philadelphia to attend workshops focusing on school improvement, technology infrastructure, professional learning, digital-age teaching and learning, and virtual schooling/e-learning.
This year, McCann plans to use its Olmsted grant to help add expertise for a computer science and software engineering (CSE) course to its Project Lead the Way program. The CSE course will include computer application development, data visualization, cybersecurity, and simulation. The grant will support comprehensive training for two faculty members for two weeks this summer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to develop and implement the new program.
Last year, McCann expanded its robotics program and developed a robotics summer camp.
This year, Mount Greylock will use its Olmsted award to continue its ninth-grade team model, which provides support for the academic, social, and emotional growth for ninth-graders. The school is planning two class trips, including a hike of Mount Greylock and participation in Ramblewild's tree-to-tree aerial course and low-ropes course. The grant also will provide a stipend for a ninth-grade team faculty leader to organize events, collaborate with the peer team and colleagues, and coordinate outside speakers.
Last year, Mount Greylock used the Olmsted funds to reinstate the ninth-grade team model and to pay for diversity awareness, cyberbullying training, and leadership development.
After the district presentations, Gage McWeeny, associate professor of English at Williams, said it was incredibly rewarding for him not only as an educator but as the father of four children in the Williamstown/Mount Greylock school district to see the level of creativity and commitment.
"Seeing these presentations ... you get to see all the tremendously hard work," he said. "It is incredibly interesting to see the ecosystem of education in the region."
McWeeny said that comes in handy when he has local students in his Williams classrooms and he can "steal" some of the brilliance these local teachers send these students off to Williams with.
"I regularly crib stuff from my students' teachers," he said.
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