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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., June 3, 2020—Williams College has awarded the annual George Olmsted Jr. Class of 1924 Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching to four outstanding high school teachers.
The recipients are Katherine D. Nuzzo, a chemistry teacher at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, Conn.; Lois Sauberlich, an English teacher at Wrightstown High School in Wrightstown, Wis.; Brian Sheehy, a history teacher at North Andover High School in North Andover, Mass.; and Nickolas T. Wilson, a former English teacher at Northcoast Preparatory Academy in Arcata, Calif., and current English teacher at Durham High School in Durham, Calif.
Each year, Williams seniors nominate high school teachers who played influential roles in their lives and education. 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.
Katherine D. Nuzzo, Joel Barlow High School, Redding, Conn.
Megan Siedman ’20 reflected on her time as Nuzzo’s student in saying, “She has made me a problem solver, a future educator, and, in so many ways, someone who was capable of graduating from Williams College.” Nuzzo is committed to helping her students reach their full potential both inside and outside of the classroom, and Siedman noted that Nuzzo encouraged her students to pursue every opportunity and challenge, fostering deep personal connections with them.
Since 1996 Nuzzo has taught chemistry at Joel Barlow High School. Beyond the classroom she has brought several programs to the school, including Unified Wellness, a program that brings together general education students, local gardeners, and students with special needs; the Connecticut Science Fair; and the Sikorsky STEM Challenge, in which students apply their STEM knowledge to solve a real-world problem. Nuzzo cares about the entire school community, and is a mentor for new teachers. Trained in social and emotional learning (SEL), she has spearheaded school-wide efforts to spread the SEL message among all members of the community.
Nuzzo sees her classroom as a place to learn real-world skills and reminds students to “be kind, do the right thing, know yourself and take care of yourself mentally and physically. Be flexible, find your passion, take risks, failure is how we learn, grades aren’t who you are, but where you were at that moment in time, discover how you learn best, find your humor and above all become a contributing member of your community.” Joel Barlow High School’s Head of School Gina M. Pin called Nuzzo “a changemaker who builds sustainability by shifting responsibilities to the students. [She] trusts the abilities of all students and challenges them all to think more deeply.”
Lois Sauberlich, Wrightstown High School, Wrightstown, Wis.
Landon Marchant ’20 called Lois Sauberlich “a tireless defender and advocate for those who cannot speak up or need an ally. Lois taught me what it looks like to stand up for oneself as well as others, when to be quiet and when to raise hell—a lesson that has informed my advocacy and life.” Marchant added, “When I attended high school, no one talked about PFLAG, GLAAD, or HRC. We didn’t use words like ‘multiculturalism,’ ‘intersectionality,’ or ‘privilege.’ But Lois saw injustice and hurt, saw children wondering if they belonged in this world, and saw potential—she took all that in, and gave us everything.”
Since 1996 Sauberlich has taught English in the Wrightstown Community School District. Teaching grades 9 through12, her courses include English, Great Books, Written Communications, Creative Writing, College Writing, and AP English Literature and Composition. She has served as a leader of several extracurricular programs including Building Respect in Diversity and Generating Equality (BRIDGE), the Building Leadership Team, the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest, and Sources of Strength. She also helped Marchant and her other students form the first Diversity Club at Wrightstown High School, creating an inclusive space for people of different backgrounds, experiences, and identities.
Sauberlich brings passion to every part of her role as an educator. Through literature she brought subjects such as mental health, suicide, and disability, as well as the classics, to her classroom. She is a role model for her students, teaching them to stand up for what they believe in. “The lessons she taught us about asking uncomfortable questions, examining discomfort rather than running from it, and empowering the powerless, continue to make me a better advocate, servant, and leader,” Marchant said.
Brian Sheehy, North Andover High School, North Andover, Mass.
Citing Brian Sheehy’s AP European History class, Ruari OCearuil ’20 said that “the passion that Sheehy brought to his classroom every day that year was unparalleled.” Through rigorous assignments and tests, OCearuil believes that Sheehy “was laying the foundation of critical thinking, argument formulation, and thorough analysis” through which OCearuil “gained the invaluable ability to think deeply and fully about serious topics.” Sheehy has fostered a community of equality and inclusion through his commitment to sharing his love of culture and history with his students. As OCearuil said, “his devotion to his subject and his ability to bring it to life were contagious, and in my case, he took my least favorite subject and turned it into one of the things I love most.”
Since 2007 Sheehy has taught history to grades 10 through 12 at North Andover High School. His courses include AP European History, Sports of the Past, World Civilization II, Global Thought, Sports in American Culture, and U.S. History. He is the history department coordinator, and has organized programs for his students to celebrate history and culture outside of the classroom. In 2019 he brought the Smithsonian’s Let’s Do History Program into the school district to work with teachers for professional development. He also developed the North Andover High History Learning Lab, a hybrid museum and classroom that allows students the opportunity to study history through objects that they can pick up and touch. In addition, he teaches at the night school and supports all students with learning disabilities.
Sheehy’s teaching philosophy is to instill a “deeper understanding, appreciation, respect, and hopefully love for history,” to push his students to work their hardest, and to provide his students with “the resources and skills to formulate, defend, and debate their views while at the same time understanding and respecting the fact that others may have differing opinions than they do.” Regarded as an energetic, passionate, and ambitious educator, North Andover High School’s principal Chet Jackson noted that “Brian has developed into a veteran teacher and department leader who is extremely innovative and who uses his passion for history to engage students in learning. He is one of the most versatile instructors we have in the North Andover Public School district.”
Nickolas T. Wilson, Durham High School, Durham, Calif.
Gaia Steinfeld DeNisi ’20 describes Nickolas Wilson as “both eloquent and relatable, which gives him authority and respect in the classroom but also allows him to connect with students.” Through his energetic lectures and personal relationships with students, Wilson teaches students to love and find meaning in literature. DeNisi added that “his English classes were always vibrant because they resonated with students in ways that went beyond the realm of academia.”
From 2011 to 2016 Wilson held a number of titles: English instructor, theory of knowledge instructor, student publications advisor, and extended essay advisor at Northcoast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy. Since 2016 he has served as an English instructor, newspaper advisor, and dual credit coordinator at Durham High School. Dedicated to his students both inside and outside the classroom, he founded the school’s paper, The Trojan Tribune, and continues to mentor student reporters. “He goes above and beyond to cultivate meaningful relationships with his students, and to help mentor them in all aspects of their life,” DeNisi said.
Wilson believes that teaching is always personal. “Whenever I present a text, I’m inviting students to draw parallels between the literature and themselves, their community and society,” said Wilson, who aims to offer students a lens through which they can better understand their relationship to their selves and the world. His impact on his students is long-lasting. As Durham High School’s Robbin Pedrett shared, “so impactful is Nick’s teaching that many of our students report that he is their most inspiring teacher and stay in touch with him long after they graduate.”
Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s approximately 2,000 undergraduate 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. The college is also home to roughly 100 Master’s students enrolled in its renowned graduate programs in Development Economics and the History of Art (the latter offered in collaboration with the Clark Art Institute). 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.