Tag: Appleton Area School District

Religious studies grad finds her calling in an Appleton elementary classroom

Michelle Gibson '17 works at a table with a second-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Appleton.
Michelle Gibson works with a student in her second-grade classroom at Appleton’s Lincoln Elementary School.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Michelle Gibson ’17 had visions of being a religious studies professor.

She arrived at Lawrence University six years ago as a first-year student enamored with the idea of teaching about life’s mysteries, about how our human qualities make us more alike than different despite our cultural and faith histories and how a thirst for learning can lead us to the inner peace we crave.

Today, nearly two years after graduating as a religious studies major, Gibson is indeed teaching those principles she holds so dear. But the students staring back at her, well, they’re a little younger than the college students she once envisioned.

Welcome to Appleton’s Lincoln Elementary School, where Gibson is a second-grade teacher, one year removed from a year-long apprenticeship program that provided a different path to the classroom than most of her teaching peers.

It turns out Gibson’s journey through Lawrence ignited a new spark, one that called her to the elementary classroom. And the launching of an apprentice partnership between Lawrence and the Appleton Area School District proved to be ideal timing, providing the opportunity she was looking for.

Gibson became one of the first two graduates of the Teacher Education Apprenticeship Program, and on April 28 she was honored with the Early Career Education Award presented by the Wisconsin Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (WACTE). The award goes to teachers in their first three years of teaching who are already making an impact.

It was during Gibson’s sophomore year at Lawrence — her last name was Johnson then — that the seeds of a new career were first planted. She took a sociology of education course that brought her into a kindergarten classroom during her practicum.

“I realized that when I was in that classroom, that was when I felt the most at home and actually felt happy,” she said. “I wasn’t stressed. It was almost like a release for me to go hang out with those kids.”

Michelle Gibson sits on the floor with some of her second-grade students during a class project at Lincoln Elementary School.
Michelle Gibson ’17, in her first year as a second-grade teacher in Appleton, was a religious studies major at Lawrence who used a one-year apprenticeship program as a path to her teaching certification.

But it wasn’t until the following year, when she took a philosophy of children class taught by Assistant Professor of Education Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd, that she was convinced the elementary classroom would indeed be her calling.

“That’s when I realized, oh my goodness, I need to teach,” Gibson said. “We were finding ways where you can pose these philosophical questions like you do in religious studies, but with children.”

In a religious studies college classroom, she figured she would mostly be speaking to students with a similar view of the world — “We are all human, we are all the same, we need to find the sameness within us to really come together as a world and as a community,” she said.

“Or I could go into an elementary classroom and be working with young students and really be helping them to see that truth and having those large philosophical conversations with them about the sameness within people and how as humans we are more alike than different, and how that can build community rather than divide us.”

That’s where the post-graduate apprenticeship program, a collaboration between Lawrence, the school district and the Mielke Family Foundation, pays dividends. It allows for undergraduates in any major at Lawrence to apply for admittance, giving them a one-year path to teacher certification as an elementary teacher.

“Our program is rare in the sense that, at its core, what we value most is the education of the liberal arts, that an education about learning to love and engage deeply in learning across disciplines and subject areas is the best preparation for teaching young children,” Burdick-Shepherd said. “The elementary school teacher teaches how to learn, and our students learn to teach learning in our elementary teacher certification program.”

Lawrence saw two graduates, Gibson being one of them, jump into the apprenticeship program in 2017. Another graduate is in the program this year and two more are lined up for next school year.

Burdick-Shepherd said her courses that are focused on working with young children are consistently full, and not just with students on a teaching path. And, as they did for Gibson, such courses might just light that fire.

“Michelle is a shining example of how someone who never saw themselves as an elementary teacher learns to recognize a call to change the world by working with young people,” Burdick-Shepherd said. “Michelle is one of LU’s outstanding alums. There was not a book you could throw at her that she wouldn’t read deeply. She wrote magnificently. A religious studies major, she traveled the world engaging deeply with other cultures and traditions.

“Michelle could do any job she wanted, but she chose to learn to teach. I think she chose this because she wanted to share her love of learning in the most impactful way she could.”

Gibson, who grew up in Minoqua, was one of two teachers honored by WACTE. The other is Dan Singer, a band teacher at Oshkosh West High School who has mentored eight student-teachers from Lawrence through the years.

Lawrence’s apprenticeship program, Gibson said, provided the guidance she needed to transition smoothly into an elementary teaching career.

“The apprenticeship, that’s when you really felt, OK, this is what teaching actually looks like,” she said. “This isn’t just reading from a textbook on what teaching looks like, this is actually what it looks and feels and smells and is like.”

She liked the full-year apprenticeship, as opposed to a one-semester student-teaching stint. It provided time to absorb, to adjust, and to ask questions.

“I knew I had an entire year to see where the kids grew, where they started off and where they ended, and I could even map my own growth alongside them,” Gibson said.

She also found her teaching style, her own pacing and methods of student interaction, heavily influenced by her liberal arts background. That’s an important thing, a base to build on.

“I could just start off with a very inquiring style of teaching,” she said.

“I had Lawrence modeling, that conversational style of teaching in the college setting, which was actually very easy to transition into a first- or second-grade room.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Appleton Area School District Honored with 2012 Lawrence University Collaboration in Action Award

For more than 150 years, Lawrence University and the Appleton Area School District have been in the business of educating young people. Through partnership and collaboration, the two institutions have bolstered their common missions of providing the highest quality instruction and rich learning environments for their students.

Lawrence President Jill Beck honored the Appleton Area School District Oct. 9 with the third annual Lawrence University Collaboration in Action Award.  The presentation was highlighted the college’s fourth annual “Report to the Community.”

Renee Boldt, a 1985 graduate and member of the college’s Board of Trustees, served as the event’s emcee and Cathie Tierney, president and CEO of Community First Credit Union, was the featured speaker.

The Lawrence University Collaboration in Action Award recognizes an individual or organization, who, in partnership with Lawrence, has provided exemplary service to the Fox Cities community through strategic vision, leadership influence, long-standing commitment and enthusiasm, financial contributions and/or volunteerism. Previous recipients of the award include the Mielke Family Foundation (2010) and the YMCA of the Fox Cities (2011).

FRONT ROW (L. to R.): Cassidi Wing, kindergarten student, Edison Elementary School; Kyan Wing, 2nd grade student, Edison Elementary School. SECOND ROW: Justyce Schultz, 5th grade student, Edison Elementary School; Barbara Wing, grandmother of Justyce, Cassidi and Kyan. THIRD ROW: Monica Rico, associate professor of history and Pieper Professor of Servant Leadership, Lawrence University; Kristi Hill, director of volunteer and community service programs, Lawrence University; Karen Bruno, director of the Academy of Music, Lawrence University; Jim Donnellan, Edison Elementary School principal; Lisa Sprangers, Grade 5/6 teacher at Edison Elementary School. TOP ROW: Sharon Fenlon, AASD board president; Stewart Purkey, associate professor of education and Bee Connell Mielke professor of education, Lawrence University; Brian Bartel, chemistry teacher, West High School, and 1997 Lawrence University graduate; Lee Allinger, AASD superintendent of schools; Jon Meyer, director of the Young Band Project, Lawrence University; Adam Tenasaputra, Lawrence student and LARY Buddy.

“The Appleton Area School District is an essential partner to Lawrence University, as it provides unmatched opportunities for our students interested in serving our community and working with youth,” said Beck.

Superintendent Lee Allinger said the Appleton Area School District is “proud to be recognized with this award.

“The partnership between the AASD and Lawrence has a rich history and continues to evolve,” said Allinger. “We are appreciative that Lawrence University leadership continues to provide opportunities for both their faculty and student body to engage in meaningful initiatives in AASD schools.”

Among many collaborative programs conducted between Lawrence and AASD are the LARY Buddies mentoring and VITAL Tutoring programs. Each has connected Lawrence students with area elementary students for decades.

The Lawrence Academy of Music has worked closely with AASD school administrators and music teachers to develop the Young Band Project and Strings Project. They enhance the music offerings of local schools and provide music instruction to students who otherwise might not have the opportunity.

Jerry Koleske, Lincoln Elementary School band teacher, sees the music programs as a classic win-win situation.

“Lawrence students receive teaching experience and are mentored by seasoned music teachers. The elementary students receive regular music instruction and consistent teaching that is greatly enhancing their level of competence,” said Koleske.

The AASD also has provided fertile student-teaching opportunities for aspiring Lawrence student educators.

“Although we are confident Lawrence students make a positive contribution to the Appleton school community while engaged in these activities, the fact remains that we could not certify Lawrence students for licensure as public school teachers without the cooperation and good will of AASD teachers and administrators,” said Stewart Purkey, Bee Connell Mielke Professor of Education.

Many Lawrence graduates go on to teach in the AASD. Those same teachers — along with many others from the area — often return to Lawrence for valuable professional development such as the college’s Mielke Summer Institute in the Liberal Arts, in which area educators explore new ideas and examine timely issues of social and cultural importance from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Other Report to the Community highlights include:

  Lawrence’s “Adopt-an-Agency” program, which helps graduating students pass their work seamlessly along to other students, providing improved continuity and building lasting relationships between local nonprofits and student organizations.

  A collaboration with the History Museum at the Castle that involved Lawrence students and faculty assisting with exhibition research, creating a historic walking map of Riverside Cemetery and, in conjunction with the museum’s “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion” exhibition, youth programming focused on the inventor’s legacy as both scientist and artist in conjunction with the AARD and the Appleton Public Library.

A summer seminar series focused on a wide variety of topics geared toward Fox Valley community members led by Lawrence faculty and local experts.

The community “Chalk Talk” art project that brought together Lawrence art students and clients of the Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities. Together they explored probing questions like “What are you?” and “How do you think others see you?” that formed the basis for portraits reflecting each client’s “sense of self.” The portraits became part of a May 2012 community exhibit that countered stereotypes about homelessness and poverty.

A project designed to reveal the human emotions — fear, loneliness, pain, shame — people hide behind invisible masks. The result was a theatre production that melded together vignettes interpreting the gamut of emotional experience, based in part on contributions from a suggestion box at Harmony Café. Community members submitted their own script ideas, including personal thoughts, memories, poems or quotations. Project participants also constructed their own papier-mâché masques as a way of exploring emotion through physical action.

• A profile of some of the more than 1,600 Lawrence alumni who make their home in the Fox Cities and northeast Wisconsin.

Lawrence’s commitment to integrating civic service into the curriculum and campus culture was recognized with its sixth consecutive selection to the 2012 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Lawrence is one of only two Wisconsin institutions that has been cited every year by the Washington, D.C.-based Corporation for National and Community Service since it launched the honor roll program in 2006.

During the 2011-12 academic year, 706 Lawrence students volunteered more than 9,525 hours of service, including 7,676 hours at 79 different Fox Cities charities and schools.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a world-class conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2013 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,450 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries. Follow Lawrence on Facebook.