In recognition of their creativity, commitment to ongoing professional development, and extraordinary dedication to students, three North Country educators have been awarded 2020 Louise Tillotson Teaching Fellowships by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. This is the 13th year of the fellowship program, which aims to retain good teachers in public schools in the North Country and recognize excellence in teaching.
This year’s awardees are Keri Wade of Gorham Middle High School, Erica Hicks of White Mountains Regional High School and Patti Dugan-Henriksen of Groveton High School.
These educators, along with their peers, have faced the exceptional challenge of quickly transitioning to teaching remotely for the last three months of the school year, as the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools throughout New Hampshire and the country.
“These challenging times have brought into sharp relief the incredible work that teachers do for our communities and our children every day,” said Jean Clarke, who administers the fellowship program at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. “The Louise Tillotson Fellowship committee is thrilled to recognize the outstanding and innovative work of these educators who have committed themselves to the students and families of the North Country.”
Awardees are selected each spring by a committee of past fellowship recipients, and each receives a $10,000 stipend.
“I am extremely excited and humbled to receive such a wonderful honor,” said Wade, who teaches science at Gorham Middle High School. “It means a lot to be recognized for many years of hard work and dedication. It is wonderful to be recognized by a group of your peers.”
Wade, who began her career in the fields of nursing and field biology, has been teaching since 1999 and has been at Gorham since 2008. Her students call her classroom “Wade’s World,” and she describes her teaching style as hands-on, with lessons individualized so students may work at a pace that is simultaneously comfortable and exciting.
“Keri is a driven, organized teacher who develops inspiring relationships with her students,” said Gorham Middle High School Principal Jen Corrigan. “Keri is one of the most creative and engaging teachers I have ever encountered. Her ability to connect with her students and her talent at teaching simple concepts, as well as more advanced topics, are both truly superior.”
Making the switch to remote learning has been a challenge, Wade said, mainly because of the loss of daily face-to-face interaction with students.
“I have always prided myself on the rigor of my curriculum and the fantastic relationships I have with all my students,” she said. “To suddenly be in a place where I can only help them remotely and not have the daily access to talk to them has been difficult. I worry about those kids who may not have parents at home to help them work through things.”
That’s a sentiment shared by both Hicks and Dugan-Henriksen.
“The remote learning world is extremely challenging,” said Hicks. “So many students have questions before they even begin, so you can imagine students give up before they even begin. I’ve had to rethink curriculum and what is appropriate for students to tackle with the given situation.”
Figuring out how to reach students at all levels has been paramount to Hicks’ teaching career, which began in 1998 at White Mountains Regional High School when she stepped in mid- year to fill a mathematics teaching vacancy. Although she’d studied psychology in college, not education, Hicks quickly fell in love with teaching.
“Being a part of shaping the lives of our youth is extremely rewarding and exciting,” she said. “The biggest challenge I’ve faced as an educator is trying to get students to believe in themselves as much as I do. My goal is for students to celebrate small steps so they can eventually turn into large strides.”
Hicks has worked with a colleague in the science department to develop a new course – Math/Science 1 – that meshes both subjects, allowing students to learn math skills through science content, demonstrating the usefulness of mathematics in real-world situations. But her teaching goes beyond mathematical concepts.
“Erica’s approach to classroom teaching is one of kindness and caring,” said Patricia Ainsworth, teacher leader for WMRHS. “She welcomes all students to learn in her classroom and provides them with the guidance and support they need to find success.”
Dugan-Henriksen, who teaches middle school science in Groveton, has embraced the idea that not all learning happens in the classroom and has worked to provide her students with opportunities to learn both through in-school projects and citizen-science endeavors in partnership with groups like New Hampshire Fish and Game and the Appalachian Mountain Club’s A Mountain Classroom. She also serves as the on-site coordinator at Groveton Elementary School for the White Mountain Science (WMSi) STEM-Works Lab.
“Patti builds rapport with her students and treats them with respect, which fosters a culture for meaningful learning experiences,” said Alice Pucci, Coös County place-based education coordinator for the AMC. “She is consistently excited to bring new ideas, opportunities, and knowledge to her students. Whether she is using citizen science tools with students to track local trees and plants or connecting other teachers in the county to resources and trainings, Patti is proactive and utilizes the strengths and resources of the community to benefit others.”
All three 2020 Louise Tillotson Teaching Fellowship recipients, like the educators recognized in previous years, strive to engage students in learning and shaping their own future paths.
“I love to see the look on a student’s face when they suddenly ‘get it’ or when a student talks about science and is passionate about it,” Dugan-Henriksen said. “I want to help students realize that they have the chance to be whatever they want to be, wherever they are or wherever they want to travel, and despite the many challenges some of them face. I want them to realize that determination and hard work, as well as a sense of humor, will take them far in life.”