McKinney school teachers honored
- Published: June 8, 2017
In her 13th year of teaching, McKinney Middle School teacher Kate Lohmeyer feels like a veteran. And she’s clear that this past school year, her second in Yellow Springs, has been the best so far.
“I’m so excited to come to work, it doesn’t feel like work anymore,” said Lohmeyer, who teaches health and physical education.
Lohmeyer’s excitement about teaching in Yellow Springs is linked to being part of a team of teachers who share a passion for working with middle schoolers and for the school’s collaborative learning model, she believes. And just last week that passion was recognized by the Ohio Middle Level Association, which presented the McKinney Middle School team with its 2017 Team of the Year award.
“Our Team of the Year award is the most distinguished honor the Ohio Middle Level Association can bestow upon an interdisciplinary team of middle level teachers to recognize the accomplishments with students and contributions to middle level education,” the OMLA website states.
The award comes with $1,000, which can be used any way the teachers choose. McKinney Middle School teachers are Shannon Morano, Jeff Collins, Brian Mayer, Jack Hatert, Jaime Adoff, Rebecca Eastman, Lynn Miller, Hilary Riepenhoff, Karleen Materne, Kate Lohmeyer, Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp and Steve Bleything.
The award is well deserved, according to Yellow Springs Superintendent Mario Basora.
“The McKinney Middle School team has been the best kept secret in Yellow Springs schools for some years now,” he wrote in an email last week. “Middle school is one of the most awesome times in our lives, with significant physical and emotional changes. It is a time in students’ lives when they need particularly amazing teachers with a high level of interpersonal skills. This team has those skills and then some. They are a team of educators who work exceptionally well together and create amazing PBL experiences for their students. I am proud to work with them.”
For Jack Hatert, the YSHS/McKinney assistant principal and McKinney teacher, the award is especially gratifying because it recognizes the team-building among teachers that has taken place in recent years. In his ninth year at the schools, Hatert is the veteran of McKinney faculty, with the other McKinney teachers coming since then, following the “administrative sweep” seven years ago when Basora became superintendent, Tim Krier became YSHS/McKinney principal and Matt Housh became Mills Lawn principal. Within a few years, the district shifted from a traditional teaching model to project-based learning, or PBL, a collaborative, interdisciplinary, hands-on style of teaching.
“We came together as a team fairly quickly, and it feels good to be recognized for that,” said Hatert, who also teaches PBL Foundations half time.
In PBL, teachers are encouraged to create learning opportunities across disciplines, and as part of the creative process, they receive the critiques and feedback of their peers, so that each teacher hears her colleagues’ input in PBL projects from the get-go.
“Each project is seen by the entire team at least once,” Hatert said. “We’re not just closing our classroom door and teaching. Everyone has given feedback” on their projects.
To apply for the award, the McKinney team had to write essays on how their “goals, procedures and accomplishments must promote the middle school concept and align with research-based best practices that are academically rigorous and developmentally responsive to the needs of young adolescents,” according to an email from Hatert. The OMLA considered six criteria, including the advancement of the middle-level philosophy; team-building and cohesion; increased student achievement and growth; demonstrating a flexible use of time; culture and community; and integrated curriculum planning and instruction.
The 2017 award is especially noteworthy because it follows on the heels of McKinney’s first all-school PBL project. Called “Into the Wild,” the project wove together math, history, science and language in a 10-week period of study. The project culminated in all students taking a three-day bike and camping trip to Morrow, Ohio, a distance of 53 miles in all. Before the trip, students prepared by studying the water cycle and historic settlements they’d visit, among other topics. Along the way they stopped at historic towns and studied invertebrates in the Little Miami River to help determine water quality. And both before and during the camping adventure, students used math in determining the amount of food needed, purchasing the food and preparing it.
The project, which took place in September and October 2016, was the brain child of science teacher Becca Eastman and phys ed teacher Lohmeyer, who both have a passion for the outdoors and wanted to share that passion with students. So they pitched the idea to the rest of the teachers, who embraced it and began finding ways to combine interdisciplinary study with an outdoor adventure.
All seven of McKinney’s teachers of academic disciplines — math, science, social studies, language arts, art and health and physical education — went along on the trip, and had a major role in planning.
“It was our first project that involved all the disciplines, and each discipline had a meaningful piece of the project,” Hatert said.
While the teachers weren’t surprised that the students embraced the outdoor adventure with energy and enthusiasm, they were surprised at an unexpected outcome. After working together as teams, completing a challenging bike trip and camping together, the students bonded as a group in ways the teachers didn’t expect, building a culture of mutual respect and helpfulness.
“There was a patience among students that hadn’t been there before, a spirit of picking each other up rather than putting each other down,” Hatert said. “We saw those effects for the rest of the school year.”
And the collaborative nature of PBL has created the team-building culture for teachers as well, as evidenced in the recent prize.
“You learn to be flexible, to listen to your peers, to take an idea and run with it, and to think creatively,” Eastman said. “It’s an amazing way to work.”
For Lohmeyer, the recent OMLA award is validation that, “the team you surround yourself with really matters. This validates the hard work that each of us brings on a daily basis.”
The McKinney team hopes to repeat Into the Wild this coming fall, and are looking into funding sources. And they aim to create new projects as well.
“PBL teaches you to teach to your passion,” Lohmeyer said, stating that the success of Into the Wild “all stemmed from us looking at each other and saying, what can we do differently, and how can we bring our passions into education?”