Ask yourself: when was the last time I got a personal letter from the President of the United States?
If you’re lucky enough to be a student in Laura West’s seventh-grade English Language Arts class, the answer is: last month.
After working with Ed as a Teacher Connector at Hudson K-8 and participating in the school’s first Network Night, West encouraged her students to raise their voices, too, by writing to Obama to express their concerns about violence in their community and the implications of national concerns about police brutality toward black teens. The Commander in Chef received letters from over 75 students, and, as most people would do, he sent a letter back.
And that’s it for this month’s Educator Spotlight!
As tempting as it is to let this wonderful story stand alone, and as moving as that anecdote is, there is so much more to Laura West that deserves recognition.
My philosophy for K-12 education is that students learn best from first-hand experience,” says West. “I am trying to make learning fun for my students, to brush off the idea that learning must be quiet and only take place while seated in a desk.”
West began her teaching career in Nigeria, spending a full school year there before coming to Hudson K-8 in August 2013. West holds a BA in History from Auburn University and an MA from Virginia Tech. She says she consciously designs curriculum units around topics that she believes will interest and empower her students.
“When we first started reading about Human Trafficking,” she says, “My students were a bit confused by the idea that modern-day slavery exists. Now, they are well versed on the issue and are activists in their own right. In this way, I hope to engage my students academically, but then push them to think about similar circumstances and issues in the world around them.”
West takes the responsibility for the education of her students very seriously, knowing that the language skills she cultivates in them now will have a huge impact on their lives. “I believe a strong vocabulary is a powerful tool for students. It will help them become stronger readers, writers, and enable them to articulate their thoughts in more profound ways,” West says. “So far this year, they have learned 150 grade-level vocabulary words and you’ll overhear them in the hallways using them in their everyday conversations like, ‘Those are counterfeit!’ and ‘I don’t know why he’s lurking in the hallway.'”
As the Network has begun to take hold at Hudson and surrounding schools, West has noticed that students are speaking up for what they want and talking about the ways in which Hudson could improve. It is the beginning of a very powerful dialogue in which even the littlest learners can be empowered to make change in their community and know that their opinions are valued.
In fact, West said her favorite memory from Network Night was watching one of her current students interact with community leaders and out-of-state visitors, such as a group of college students visiting from Washington and Lee University, exchanging email addresses and promising to follow-up.
“As his teacher, I stood in awe of my student who so boldly made himself a part of a situation that could have been overwhelming for the typical twelve year old,” West says. “Instead, he rose to the occasion and expanded his own cultural exposure by effortlessly connecting with people hailing from so many different cultural, economic, and racial backgrounds. You can’t help but wonder what they’ll do next.”