Three days in the nation’s capital were billed as an awards event, but Amherst Junior High educators said they went to learn.
The Milan Avenue school was presented Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Education’s prestigious National Blue Ribbon. Principal Ryan Coleman, language arts teacher Katie Wohlever, and Amherst Schools superintendent Steven Sayers traveled south to Washington, D.C., to accept.
“It was a jam-packed three days,” Wohlever told the News-Times. “I didn’t wipe the smile off my face for days. There were positive, enthusiastic people all around.”
In a whirlwind series of conferences, she head Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples of Amarillo, Texas, speak; listened to U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education John King Jr.; and networked with teachers from all 50 states.
“They really had us working and sharing with each other,” said Wohlever. “I got more from talking to other teachers and superintendents from around the country than I would have from shaking a cabinet member’s hand.”
The Blue Ribbon was earned this year by just 335 schools from a pool of roughly 98,800 across the nation. Amherst Junior High was selected as one of Ohio’s top performers.
The award goes to schools based on overall academic excellence and progress in helping all students achieve, regardless of socio-economic class, race, or disability.
But Coleman said winning the honor in no way means AJHS is a perfect school.
“They really focused on how the Blue Ribbon is not a destination to be reached,” he said. “It’s an honor but it’s also a starting point and a challenge to keep improving, keep innovating.”
Coleman and Wohlever said they stopped to exchange teaching ideas with many other educators and found AJHS is “heading in the right direction,” especially when it comes to a schoolwide emphasis on reading and writing in all courses.
Wohlever was especially interested in hearing fellow teachers discuss ways to slow summer learning loss, get creative in the classroom, and integrate test preparation into everyday lessons.
Another focus was on showing kids how learning problem-solving methods can have immediate relevance in their lives.
For Wohlever — who teaches classics such as Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” — perhaps the best advice she found in Washington was to give students more time to digest what they’ve read and to think over material before they start filling in bubbles on test sheets.
The methods teachers use to reach students must constantly change as the world does, Coleman said. That’s especially true today, when teenagers are hooked day and night to smart phones and tablets.
“Teachers can’t just stand up at the front of the room and give information,” he said. “Teachers have to establish raport… They’re working with students as a whole, as people, not just on a subject. It’s not about standing and giving. It’s about reaching out.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Courtesy photos Amherst Schools superintendent Steven Sayers, teacher Katie Wohlever, and Amherst Junior High principal Ryan Coleman pose for a picture in Washington, D.C.