Educator Spotlight: Lindsey Bloodworth, English Teacher, Ramsay High School

The material that Lindsey Bloodworth teaches in her 9th– and 10th– grade English classes at Ramsay High School can be difficult to get students excited about, so she uses some unconventional methods. When teaching Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 19th-century classic, The Scarlett Letter, a notoriously arduous staple of high-school English syllabi, Ms. Bloodworth imitated character Hester Prynne’s famous stand on the scaffold in town square. “I stood on my desk the whole day to read that opening scene,” she said. After that, the kids were hooked. On a later date, they wanted to keep reading even after the bell. “At the end of the class, when we were getting close to the bell and I told the kids we needed to stop for the day, they all simultaneously yelled ‘No!’ And this was about The Scarlett Letter.” Even Ms. Bloodworth, a devotee of American literature, had not anticipated the emotional reaction from her students: “I thought that would never happen, but it did.” Continue reading

Educator Spotlight: Erik Batson, Academy Coordinator, Jackson-Olin High School

Despite the impressive list of places where he has taught—from the Bronx, to Austin, Texas, to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina—you’d be hard-pressed to
find a teacher anywhere that has as much enthusiasm for their system as Erik Batson has for Birmingham City Schools.

Sitting at a table at Starbucks in Five Points South, wearing cycling clothes complete with a “Brooklyn”-emblazoned cycling cap, he professed, “I love my job. I love working for Jackson-Olin, and I love working for Birmingham City Schools—much better than other places I have been.” Continue reading

Educator Spotlight: Aimee Castro, Spanish Teacher, WJ Christian

aimeecastroheadshotTalk to any number of our teachers and I bet they’ll share one thing in common: a passion for kids. But what cool things happen when a teacher combines her personal passions with her passion for the classroom? Enter, WJ Christian’s Aimee Castro, Spanish teacher and travel aficionado.

A native of New Orleans and a 2003 graduate of Loyola University, Aimee moved to Atlanta after college to work for AmeriCorps. It was then that she began to experiment with travel. In 2004 , Aimee explored Europe and South America and lived in Argentina for four months, during which time she learned Spanish. With this new skill, Aimee decided to go back to school to earn her master’s in English as a second language and a degree in Spanish. In 2001, she joined the staff at Birmingham City School’s WJ Christian as a Spanish teacher, and she has been there ever since. Continue reading

Educator Spotlight: Gena Casey, 5th-grade teacher, Avondale Elementary

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Types of Sentences Write-a-Thon.

There are those who believe that everyone has a calling or a purpose in life and Gena Casey is one of them. When asked how she got to where she is now, she simply said, “I felt I was called to be a teacher.” Gena Casey graduated from Mountain Brook High School and decided to extend her education at the University of Alabama. She began there as a theatre major, but wrestled with her passion for educating children. She decided to change her major to elementary education and graduated in 2012. After teaching 5th grade at Maxwell Elementary, in Tuscaloosa, AL, she decided to bring her talents back to Birmingham at Avondale Elementary where she has been for a year, teaching 5th grade. Continue reading

Educator Spotlight: Diann Pilgrim, Wenonah High School

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Ms. Pilgrim (center) and her students volunteering at the Wenonah High School 10th Annual Unity Breakfast this year, during which time they prepared food for and served over 500 guests.

If you’re making a visit to Diann Pilgrim’s class at Wenonah, you better bring your appetite.

On any given day of the week, her students are experimenting in the professional-grade test kitchen, memorizing and perfecting recipes for an upcoming competition, awards-ceremony spaghetti dinner, or a mid-afternoon snack. And aside from being very promising aspiring chefs, her students are nothing if not gracious (and generous) hosts. Continue reading

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.”

Educator Spotlight: Scotty Feltman, Avondale Elementary

scotty2 Around 3:00pm each school day at Avondale Elementary, students and families see a recognizable face in the car line. Scotty Feltman is both familiar and popular, and has been for the past seven years. This reputation has been established by preparing his 5th graders to be ready for middle school by going above and beyond what is expected of him as a teacher.

scotty1When asked if she was ready for 6th grade, one of Mr. Feltman’s students replied, “I do feel ready because Mr. Feltman teaches us stuff that we are supposed to learn in 6th grade. He has taught us more than any teacher I’ve ever had. I really like his class.” Ed doesn’t always get the chance to step back and listen to our students describe their appreciation for teachers, but when we do, it’s quite empowering.

Feltman began teaching in 2007, after earning his teaching degree from University of Alabama at Birmingham. “I wanted to be a teacher because I thought it would be fun and I could make a difference in people’s lives daily,” he says. “I love reading and learning how things work and teaching seemed like a perfect fit.” It’s obvious that Mr. Feltman makes a difference on a daily basis. During experiments, students’ eyes light up. One says, “My favorite [experiment] was [on] density where we figured out which liquids were more or less dense than others. It was super cool.”

To keep his students interested and invested in Science, Feltman maintains that getting to know his students is key.

I try and create personal relationships with each of my students,” Feltman says. “I try to challenge them daily and show them what they can do anything even if they think they can’t.”

This year, Mr. Feltman has visited the homes of his students to build relationships outside of the classroom with students and their families. Feltman knows that challenging students daily is a lot easier when you have established a strong relationship with them during and after the school day. He says, “I hope that each of my students has a chance to succeed in life.  I’m trying to show them what they are capable of and also teach them that quitting because things are tough isn’t an option.”

Scotty, Ed is very thankful for all that you do for students and your school on a daily basis. Thanks for holding such high expectations for your students, and having a whole lot of fun while doing so.

Educator Spotlight: Rebecca Blumenfeld, Spanish teacher, G.W. Carver High School

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Blumenfeld and students at a Dia de Los Muertos celebration.

G.W. Carver High School’s Spanish teacher, Rebecca Blumenfeld, has a pretty ambitious idea about foreign language instruction.

“When students leave my classroom,” she says, “I want them to be motivated to become lifelong learners of the Spanish language, to use their Spanish to bridge differences between people, and to help their peers and their community as a whole. I want them to have a better understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the world through experiencing different cultures.” Continue reading

Educator Spotlight: Dr. Dylan Ferniany, Program Specialist, Gifted and Talented Education

Dr. Ferniany and Make Bham's Bruce Lanier with completed Design Week Birmingham challenge packages.

Dr. Ferniany and Make Bham’s Bruce Lanier with completed Design Week Birmingham challenge packages.

Dr. Dylan Ferniany is a newcomer to Birmingham City Schools, but, as her teachers and students will likely tell you, that hasn’t stopped her from initiating substantial changes and encouraging creative projects for students in the system’s Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs.

Before accepting the position as GATE Program Specialist last May, Dr. Ferniany taught gifted education in Homewood at Shades Cahaba Elementary for four years and Homewood Middle School for three. She received her Doctorate in Education from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College in Leadership, Policy, and Organizations in 2013 and founded the Birmingham chapter of Young Education Professionals, a national organization that seeks to connect future education leaders and educators across school districts and organizations. Additionally, Ferniany was recently appointed President-Elect of the Alabama Association for Gifted Children and serves as the TEDxBirmingham K-12 Education Coordinator, supporting educators in using TED and TED-Ed talks to enhance their schools and classrooms.

In her job at BCS, Ferniany supports 12 gifted specialists who serve over 1200 students district-wide as itinerant teachers – Ferniany instituted this change at the start of the 2014-2015 school-year to limit the loss of instructional time students previously faced in going to specific schools for their gifted classes. This year, the GATE team is also working to increase collaboration and communication with classroom teachers, parents, and administrators to ensure that schools are well-equipped to meet the needs of advanced students at all levels. To that point, she says, “Our students have needs that reach beyond the hours of GATE class and we are working to meet those needs in partnership with parents, educators, and our community.”

Ferniany’s move to Birmingham characterizes her passion for gifted education, her creative and eager mind, and her desire to ensure equity in opportunity for all students in Birmingham.

Gifted education is about much more than the students identified for the program,” Ferniany says. “It is about holding all students to high expectations, seeking out students’ unique talent and finding ways for them to practice and develop it.”

BCS GATE student games on display at Design Week Birmingham.

BCS GATE student games on display at Design Week Birmingham.

Visit a GATE classroom and you’ll see this theory in action.  On any given day, you might see elementary and middle school students doing Public Service Announcements, Shakespeare plays, building catapults, designing solutions to complex theoretical problems, or making board games from a random assortment of locally-designed poster misprints, plastic letters, and pipe cleaners.

This fall, the department has hosted a workshop as part of Ferniany’s interest in expanding parent outreach, helping parents/guardians appreciate the needs of gifted children and learn ways to engage them in learning at home. Ferniany and her team have initiated partnerships with multiple organizations to bring new programming to students, including the MAKEBhm design challenge for Design Week Birmingham and career speakers from BBVA Compass. Through these partnerships, Ferniany hopes to help students better connect to their city and see their futures here.

In the spring, the GATE program expects to continue and expand current partnerships and programs that have been successful, while also evolving to meet the needs of each school and each student.

“I can’t wait to see what the students and teachers in the BCS GATE program will create,” says Ferniany. “The emphasis on project-based learning, creative and critical thinking skills–kids and teachers love it, and they are so engaged. You can’t help but be inspired by the students and be excited by what they’ll do next.”

January is Alabama’s Gifted Education Month where teachers and students share the importance of gifted education programs.  If you would like more information about the program please contact Dr. Ferniany at dferniany@bhm.k12.al.us