Educator Spotlight: Laura West, Hudson K-8 School

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Laura West’s students recently received a reply from President Obama after sending him some letters of their own.

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!

Just kidding.

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's call to action to be Revolutionary is a notion that her 7th graders take seriously.

West’s call to action to Be Revolutionary is a notion that her 7th graders take seriously.

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.”

Student Voice: My HOSA Experience by Monique Shuford, Carver Academy of Health Sciences

At the beginning of the school year, Academy Coordinator Kristie Williams made it her priority to reinstate a HOSA Chapter at Carver High School, one that had been dormant for at least four years. With the support of Ed and their teachers, 10 students competed at the Regional Competition in Montgomery in February and brought home two third-place titles. Hear about the experience from the perspective of one of the winners below. 

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Monique, at left, poses with her fellow HOSA competitors on competition day. Moriah Craig, second from right, won third place in the job seeking skills category.

As soon as I officially became a HOSA member and was selected to participate in the writing competition I immediately went to work on honing my writing skills. I had been told that writing was one of my strengths and so, to prepare, I continued to learn about writing from my English teacher, Ms. Dorset. We were working on argumentative essays and rhetorical analysis essays at the time, so I paid close attention to the new techniques and new ways of writing and thinking that she shared with us.

I also opened up my mind to more possibilities of how something could be handled or read. I increased my ability to analyze prompts to see what it is asking and executing my response without adding irrelevant topics to the essay. Preparing in this way really helped me because the writing was extemporaneous.

When we arrived for the competition I was nervous but not nervous at the same time. It was a warm feeling there and I did not feel out of place. I enjoyed the other schools and learned more about the competitions. I learned how things are supposed to be done and what is expected of the individuals in HOSA. I felt very confident in my writing skills and in myself. I met the expectations and wrote my essay.

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Health Occupations Students of America, is a national initiative, connecting students across the country on topics related to the field of health sciences.

At first, I was nervous I would not finish in time, because we only had an hour to write the essays – but it turned out that I finished 15 minutes ahead of time! When we were given the assignments, I took my time re-reading the prompts and chose the one I could support the most. Within 45 minutes I had a six-paragraph essay giving three reasons why health partnerships are important with examples of each, including my experience with the Bridging the Gap Program at UAB Hospital with the Ed Foundation. With that essay, I won 3rd place and hope to go to the Nationals.

As a result of my HOSA experience, I am certain I am capable of achieving my goals in life. This experience helped me appreciate that I can do anything I set my mind to and that I am a winner. It meant that size does not matter, that my background does not matter. This is my first HOSA competition and I won 3rd place. That means a lot to me and those around me. I am glad I got the opportunity to have these experiences.

Monique and her fellow competitor Moriah will travel to California this summer to compete at Nationals and to that we say, best of luck ladies! You have made us so very proud. 

Partnership Feature: Better Basics

DSC01104-513x335Local non-profit Better Basics has a long history of working with students in the Birmingham Community.  Founded by John Glasser in 1993, the organization has grown over the years to include a full slate of youth literacy programs aimed at pre-school,  elementary-, and middle-school learners.  Each year, these programs serve over 25,00 children with the help of over 500 community volunteers. In 2013-2014, Better Basics awarded more than 40,000 books to students in their programs.

For the staff at Better Basics, the mission of the organization – to make a positive difference in the lives of children and their families by advancing literacy through enrichment and intervention programs – is motivated by more than just the love of reading.

Literacy is the foundation for childhood learning,” says Karen Kapp, Executive Director of Better Basics. “And when it comes to reading, the single most important factor is practice and ongoing exposure to books.”

student-winners-with-volunteer-400x286This year, Ed is partnering with Better Basics as part of the Carver Feeder Development Plan to expand programming at Tuggle Elementary to include the intensive Reading Intervention and Reading Mentors programs. Through Reading Intervention, struggling readers will spend several hours each week with a Certified Teacher to help increase their grade-level in reading.  Additionally, Ed staff and students from the Lawson State Honors College will serve in the Reading Mentors program, working one-on-one with students who are currently below grade-level in reading to practice comprehension skills and improve attitude and confidence.

“We’re excited to work with Ed in a formal capacity this year,” says Kapp. “It is through these kinds of strategic partnerships that we can best serve students in Birmingham, working together to increase each other’s capacity, and capitalize on our organizations’ individual strengths.”

Learn more about Better Basics and find out how you can volunteer at their website.