Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, executive assistant; tele: 413-597-4277; email: [email protected]
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., May 1, 2018—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 2, at Ivy Exercises.
The recipients are Jeff Hess, an English teacher at South Eugene High School in Eugene, Ore.; Justin C. Maaia, a religious studies teacher at the National Cathedral School in Washington D.C.; Chad Stauber Soik, a language arts teacher at the Sheboygan North High School in Sheboygan, Wis.; and Giovanna Termini, a social studies teacher at Hunter College High School in New York, N.Y.
Each year, Williams seniors nominate high school teachers who played influential roles in their lives and learning. A committee of faculty, staff, and students choose winners from among the nominees. Recipients of the award receive $3,000, and an additional $5,000 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.
Jeff Hess, South Eugene High School, Eugene, Ore.
Jacob Cytrynbaum ’18 credits Jeff Hess with teaching him “how to be true to myself and hold myself to high standards in all that I do, not because it makes me better than someone else but because it makes me better than I was before.” Hess created and currently teaches the Integrated Outdoor Program (IOP), a class combining nature-based literature and composition with outdoor activities ranging from map and compass navigation to swimming, biking, and camping. Cytrynbaum says that Hess has inspired students who would have otherwise dropped out to stay in school and that he “disrupts the common notion of who fails and who excels in school.” Cytrynbaum adds that Hess “created a program in which students from AP courses and remedial courses, high socioeconomic backgrounds and low…all learned together on a relatively level playing field.”
Since 1999, Hess has taught English, world literature, nature literature, oral communications, strength and conditioning, jogging, net games, basketball, and teen health at South Eugene. He has coached the cross country and track teams. Hess previously taught at Glendale High School in Glendale, Ore., where he instituted the first Advanced Placement class. At South Eugene, he initiated and led the effort to raise $421,000 to renovate the track, initiated construction and co-built the climbing room, and proposed a rock climbing class in addition to the IOP.
Even after 30 years of teaching, Hess said, “I still make it a priority to start every day fresh with every student.” He emphasizes a “bottom-up” philosophy in his coaching; the team improves as a whole instead of by elevating a few people to the top who will pull the team up with them. Andy Dey, principal of South Eugene High School, said that “Hess was nominated for this honor because of his excellence, because a former student couldn’t forget what Hess meant to his development during his teen years. That—in itself—speaks volumes.”
Justin C. Maaia, National Cathedral School, Washington, D.C.
In the beginning of her freshman year of high school, Johanna Wassermann ’18 was assigned an advisor: Justin Maaia. From their first meeting, she knew they would get along. As Maaia only taught courses for upperclassmen, Wassermann was one of the few freshmen who knew him well. She remembers being disturbed when she found a copy of Mein Kampf on his bookshelf, a book he uses in his course, Good and Evil. Wassermann took this course her senior year. It focuses on the question “why is there evil in the world?” “In teaching us to look deliberately at Evil, Mr. Maaia gave us the exact tools we needed to combat it,” Wassermann said. “I feel like I have so much more to do as an activist and an ally. But I can say that, thanks to Mr. Maaia, I am learning to be more deliberate in my choices and actions. I am learning to ask myself why I am choosing to do, or not do, something. And I am also learning to question my answers.”
In addition to Good and Evil, Maaia teaches courses in world religions and philosophy of the East and West. He has previously taught courses on global ethics and social justice. Of Maaia, Head of School Kathleen O’Neill Jamieson wrote that “he is the quintessential student himself. He is forever seeking to enhance his work, connect it more meaningfully to today’s students, and support them in developing their spirituality or personal philosophy…In the current environment of our nation, every school needs a Justin Maaia, who stays focused on the myriad ways to find a way forward, strengthen our resolve to do good, and to lead.”
In his courses, Maaia incorporates exercises such as experiential journaling and fieldwork projects. He tries to get his students to learn about and understand themselves, but also recognizes his responsibility to teach them about others, about “diversity—of race, class, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political persuasion, or even just diversity of thinking.” He is deeply grateful for his career and the people it has allowed him to interact with. “Sometimes the image of ‘crossing the abyss that separates us from ourselves’ conjures images of hard work, of trying to integrate pieces of ourselves we would rather not acknowledge,” Maaia said. “This nomination is a reminder that often we don’t spend enough time looking at the good aspects of ourselves either. That is certainly something we should all take more time to do.”
Chad Stauber Soik, Sheboygan North High School, Sheboygan, Wis.
Four years after graduating from high school, Molly Knoedler ’18 still remembers the lessons she learned in Chad Stauber Soik’s classes. She remembers his willingness to discuss difficult topics, push students to think critically and creatively, and support the debate team outside of school hours. Knoedler thinks of Soik as the most influential teacher in her education, and she admires him as a “teacher who stays motivated through adversity and embraces new ideas in the classroom. I hope he will have the courage and energy to do this for years to come.”
Since 2001, Soik has taught language arts at Sheboygan North High School. His classes range from ninth grade English to upper level science fiction and film study lectures. He served as assistant debate coach from 2002 to 2005, and as head coach until 2012, at which time he stepped down until 2016, when he resumed coaching the team. John Matczak, principal of Sheboygan North High School, says that Soik “embodies the true meaning of a committed life long learner. He is constantly reflecting on his craft as well as taking on new challenges.”
During his career as an educator, Soik has refined his teaching philosophy to better support the students and families he serves. An incident in 2007 involving a student art piece that caused a free speech debate led him to refer to himself as a “language arts” teacher, not an English teacher. “Literature and art is not drudgery,” Soik said. “It is a window to the grandest answers and questions of the human experience.” Currently, he volunteers for local political action groups and advocates for public education, working tirelessly against the challenges facing public education, including increasing class sizes, teacher burnout and attrition, and school closings. “In the end, I know all my students desperately want to succeed,” Soik said. “In the end, I know all my students desperately want to belong. I remain devoted to these ideals.”
Giovanna Termini, Hunter College High School, New York, N.Y.
Marissa Levin Shapiro ’18 is going to be a teacher because of her 11th grade history teacher, Giovanna Termini. “Ms. Termini taught me that instead of just wondering why things are a certain way, I could research the answer and draw my own conclusions,” Shapiro said. “In her class, I learned how to be an independent thinker and to advocate for myself.” When Shapiro wanted to pursue an independent research project, Termini encouraged and advised her—on top of managing a full course load and raising three children.
Since 2001, Termini has taught social studies at Hunter College High School, serving as team leader for every grade of the curriculum and teaching courses, including AP European History and an archeology elective that she designed. An advisor of the school’s Model United Nations team and member of numerous committees, Termini is a valued member of the school community. “What this impressive list of accomplishments fails to convey,” said Tony Fisher, principal of Hunter College High, “is how positive a presence Ms. Termini is at Hunter, both in and out of the classroom. As a teacher, she is known to be extremely demanding, but she is able to convey her deep belief in her students’ ability to achieve at the highest level, her joy in being their teacher, her investment in their success and her willingness to put in whatever extra time they need.”
Before becoming a teacher, Termini studied art history and archeology. She has served at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an educator since 1998. Seventeen years ago, she took a break from writing her dissertation to teach high school for a year; she never left, finding that her teaching career completes her. “The more I teach, the more I realize good teaching is not about the information or stories I bring to a room of students,” Termini said. “I believe student curiosity and determination should drive inquiry…I try to create experiences that allow for authentic learning and skill building.”
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.