MERIDEN — A Maloney High School teacher has received a $15,000 grant from a private foundation to develop an “online equity toolkit” for city teachers.
Maloney chemistry teacher Jennifer Ward was one of 13 teachers in New England that received the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s 2017 Lawrence W. O’Toole Teacher Leadership Award. Each recipient was awarded $15,000 for projects “making an impact on the lives of New England students through student-centered learning.”
“Student-centered environments are personalized to support individual interests and needs (and) allow students to progress at their own pace,” the foundation said in a statement announcing the winners. “This year’s group of award winners are advocating for student-centered approaches that address issues of inequities within their classrooms, schools and districts.”
Ward applied for the grant by pitching a project to work with a team of other teachers to create an online toolkit that teachers can use to promote equality based on research.
“It’s a huge undertaking,” said Ward, a teacher at Maloney for 12 years, “but I think it’s really important work because there are systemic inequities, not just in education but in society, and if we can recognize that those exist, we’re not going to fix them, but the hope is that this toolkit will provide us with the ability to not make those infiltrate the classroom.”
Sometimes students of different minority groups are at a disadvantage, Ward said.
“The educational system is set up for white middle class and that’s not who our students are. And that’s beyond a Meriden thing, that’s an American thing,” she said.
The toolkit will be available online to all Meriden teachers beginning next school year and will focus on culturally responsive teaching, social justice and student advocacy.
Ward is putting together the toolkit with a team of about seven to 10 other teachers. The grant money will be used to pay for resources and to compensate teachers for time spent outside of the school day.
The strategies in the toolkit will build off of the school district’s student-centered learning initiative launched about five years ago to shift the focus of education from memorization of content to mastery of skills. For example, Ward said, if the student-centered learning calls for more teacher-student conferences, then “how can we use those conferences to promote equality?”
Platt High School teacher Kelly Roman also received an O’Toole Award and $15,000 grant from the foundation last year, which she used to hold a series of workshops with local businesses and community organizations on student-centered learning.