Williams College Announces Four Recipients of Olmsted Awards for Secondary School Teachers

Media contact:  Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: Noelle.Lemoine@williams.edu

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., April 18, 2013—Williams College will award the annual George Olmsted Jr. Class of 1924 Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching to four outstanding high school teachers on Saturday, June 1, at Ivy Exercises.

The recipients are: Margaret DeBlois, an English teacher at Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn, Maine; Deborah M. Proctor, a math teacher at Jensen Beach High School in Jensen Beach, Fla.; Lisa Rauschart, a history teacher at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C.; and Iliyana Slavova, a chemistry teacher at the High School of Mathematics and Science “Ivan Vazov” in Dimitrovgrad, Bulgaria.

Each year, Williams seniors nominate high school teachers who played influential roles in their lives and learning. A committee of faculty, staff, and students chooses winners from among the nominees. Recipients of the award receive $3,000, and an additional $2,500 is given to each recipient’s school. The Olmsted Prize was established in 1976 with an endowment from the estates of George Olmsted Jr. and his wife, Frances.

Margaret DeBlois, Saint Dominic Academy, Auburn, Maine

Williams senior Michael Girouard’s love of literature was sparked by DeBlois’ creative and evolving approaches to the study of literature and her “creative long-term investment in her students as individuals,” as Girouard said. “From my first research paper in 7th grade on chimpanzees to my final senior research project on James Joyce, Mrs. DeBlois has afforded me tools that I use and develop now as a French literature major,” Girouard said. “[Her classes] demonstrated a teaching philosophy that students should be challenged to convey their understanding in a variety of ways, even outside of their comfort zones.”

DeBlois has taught English at Saint Dominic Academy since 2006, returning to her childhood dream of teaching in 2003 after working as a marketing consultant. At Saint Dominic Academy, she works with students in grades 10 through 12 in classes ranging from remedial through AP English. She also teaches creative writing and public speaking, has developed a new English department curriculum for the school, is the coordinator of Poetry Out Loud, serves on the writing curriculum steering committee, and is the adviser to a new student newspaper. Girouard says that her exceptional commitment to students “shows an understanding that academic performance and success is contextual and influenced by factors outside of the classroom. For this reason, it has always been important for her to know her students individually.”

Dawn Theriault, DeBlois’ colleague and department chair, applauds Deblois’ “way of reaching every student by drawing out their skills and talents and allowing them to experience both their strengths and weaknesses in order to better their performances.” Girouard agrees that DeBlois’ creative teaching methods allowed for significant personal mentorship, saying, “Her investment in me and in all of her students was so deeply personal it was palpable.”

Deborah Proctor, Jensen Beach High School, Jensen Beach, Florida

“She doesn’t just teach in a classroom, she brings the subject matter to life,” Williams senior Lysa Vola said of Debby Proctor, a math teacher at Jensen Beach High School.  “She teaches by the very essence of what education should be: applicable to the real world.”

Proctor began teaching at Jensen Beach High School when the school opened nine years ago. She is the head of the math department and also serves as a class sponsor, senior coordinator, SGA sponsor, graduation coordinator, Mu Alpha Theta sponsor, School to Work adviser, and a member of several school and district committees, including literacy leadership. “Dedication inside and outside the classroom is a trait that defines part of Debby’s success,” says Ginger Featherstone, the school’s principal. “She is a professional educator with a clear vision and the skills needed to implement innovative strategies that will ensure quality education for all.”

Vola said Proctor has benefited the lives of her students in and out of the classroom, citing examples of afterschool classes for advanced math students, help with college applications, and a willingness to consistently exceed requirements in order to provide a well-rounded and enriching educational experience for each of her students. “She constantly gave us her own free time during lunch and after school hours,” said Vola. “She is always available to her students for both academic and personal matters … I have never met a teacher more dedicated to an entire classroom, school, and overall community than Debby Proctor.”

Proctor was also an inspiration for Vola to become a math tutor in high school and at Williams. “She taught me that if you have the gift of understanding something, you should be willing to help teach and share that gift with other students,” says Vola. “She is the very essence of what teaching should be: it shouldn’t end in the classroom, but rather extend into all facets of both a teacher and a student’s life.”

Lisa Rauschart, Georgetown Day School, Washington, D.C.

Lisa Rauschart’s history classes affect her students’ lives far beyond conventional academic settings. “As much as Lisa shone inside the classroom, she demonstrated her exceptional dedication to her students through the opportunities she provided outside of it,” said Williams senior Jordan Roberts. “Her extra credit excursions are the stuff of legend.” Rauschart’s signature field trips include regular trips to city museums, town archives, and the house of Gladys Stern, the former head of Georgetown Day School, to collect firsthand experience. “Lisa made a point of treating each one of us as if we had the potential to be great historians,” Roberts said. “Her belief in her students gave us the courage and confidence to achieve more than we would have imagined was possible.”

Rauschart taught at Georgetown Day School’s elementary school before her move to the high school 14 years ago. She is constantly engaged with her students and leads classes in thought-provoking exercises that are intended to challenge student’s preconceptions and extend their powers of imagination. Roberts emphasizes that Rauschart cares deeply about the development of students’ critical, creative, and interpretive skills. “I found her teaching style to be truly inspired,” Roberts said. “Without Lisa’s guidance I could never have imagined connecting so personally with topics that seemed so distant.”

Kevin Barr, assistant head of school at Georgetown Day, said Rauschart is forever available and devoted to her students, their learning, and their lives. “Lisa is living proof of the old adage about teaching that kids will remember their teacher’s character far longer than they will remember any character in a book the teacher taught.”

Iliyana Slavova, High School of Mathematics and Science “Ivan Vazov,” Bulgaria

Since joining the faculty of the High School of Mathematics and Science “Ivan Vazov” in 1995 as a chemistry teacher, Iliyana Slavova has been “changing the culture fundamentally and revolutionizing the methods of teaching,” said Williams senior Radina Angelova. Angelova described Vazov as a burst of light in the “bleakness” of Eastern Europe. “She did not only literally change our visual experiences with her bright clothes, but also metaphorically made us—her students—see color in life.”

Slavova’s emphasis on student participation and intellectual engagement has “revolutionized the techniques of teaching not only in Khaskovo community, but also in Bulgaria,” said Ivan Panayotov, head of the Regional Inspectorate on Education in Khaskovo Region, Bulgaria. Panayotov and Angelova said Bulgaria’s dominant educational systems favor rigidity and passivity—notions that Slavova constantly challenges with her innovative and enthusiastic teaching. “The impact of her creativity, displayed both in the quality of her scholarly research in the field of chemistry and her work for educational development, is simply immense,” said Panayotov.

Slavova encourages her students to connect with “various modes of thought,” said Angelova. Each of Slovova’s chemistry classes begins with a quote from a philosopher. A student is then selected to write on the blackboard and relate the quote to the field of chemistry. Before Slavova’s classes, “teaching had always been about dryly conveying information already written in an equally dry textbook,” Angelova said. Slavova’s teaching allows students, “to experience one of the foremost pleasures in life—learning for the sake of learning.”

Angelova credits her Williams experience to Slavova, who “made all of us feel strong and clever—a process of validation so simple and yet so brilliant,” she said. “Gradually, we adopted her zest for life and inherited her strong conviction in the fundamental goodness of people and the world, which inevitably made us happier.”

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Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.

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