Teacher of the year in­stills cu­rios­ity in stu­dents

Ce­cil­ton’s High­field earns an­nual honor

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - jian­netta@ce­cil­whig.com By JES­SICA IANNETTA

CE­CIL­TON — When Anne High­field taught her first class, the stu­dents were only a lit­tle bit younger than her — they were in sixth grade and she was in ninth grade.

“My mother let me play hooky from school to teach in her class­room,” High­field re­called. “She re­quired me to sub­mit a les­son plan in ad­vance and she pre-con­fer- enced and post-con­fer­enced me. I was hooked af­ter that.”

High­field’s love for teach­ing hasn’t wa­vered in the decades since that first les­son and on Thurs­day night, the Ce­cil­ton El­e­men­tary School teacher was named the 2016 Ce­cil County Pub­lic Schools teacher of the year.

The recog­ni­tion was a long time com­ing for High­field, who has been with CCPS for 26 years, in­clud­ing the last five at Ce­cil­ton El­e­men­tary. She got hired by the sys­tem shortly af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Slip­pery Rock Univer­sity and meet­ing a CCPS re­cruiter at one of the school’s job fairs.

“I re­mem­ber walk­ing by the Ce­cil County booth and the guy there said, ‘Hey, do you want to work in Ce­cil County?’ And I said, ‘ Well, where is Ce­cil County?’” said High­field, who grew up in Oil City, Pa.

She started with CCPS as a me­dia spe­cial­ist, hold­ing that job for about six years be­fore be­com­ing a fifth­grade teacher and then an in­struc­tional sup­port teacher. Be­fore com­ing to Ce­cil­ton five years ago, High­field

spent 10 years as an in­struc­tional coach, go­ing into class­rooms and men­tor­ing teach­ers.

Although she liked her time as an in­struc­tional coach, she also loves be­ing in the class­room and build­ing re­la­tion­ships with her stu­dents. High­field en­joys the chance to see her stu­dents grow dur­ing the year and watch as they learn new things about their own abil­i­ties and the world around them. Cu­rios­ity, High­field said, is key and she tries to keep that at the cen­ter of all her lessons.

“I think if I can awaken their sense of cu­rios­ity about the world, they’ll be set for life,” she said. “The world isn’t re­ally about how much in­for­ma­tion you can ab­sorb or how much in­for­ma­tion the teacher can im­part on you. It’s more about how you can di­rect your own learn­ing and find out the things you want to find out, and then do and cre­ate some­thing with that learn­ing.”

Her fourth grade stu­dents cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­ate that ap­proach, though they have another word for it: “fun stuff.”

“She’s al­ways do­ing fun stuff with us and teach­ing us while do­ing fun stuff,” said Leila Suter, one of High­field’s stu­dents.

Her class­mate Jack Harris agreed and said his fa­vorite “fun stuff” ac­tiv­ity was walk­ing around out­side to look for and lis­ten for frogs.

“She never yells or gets mad ei­ther,” Harris added. “She’s al­ways in a happy mood when she comes in.”

High­field’s skill at cre­at­ing fun yet ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties also ex­tends be­yond the walls of her class­room. In 2013, she worked with the Sas­safras River As­so­ci­a­tion to cre­ate a rain gar­den at the school and each year her stu­dents tend to the gar­den and learn about the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and the sur­round­ing ecosys­tem.

High­field has also dis­cov­ered a spe­cial knack for craft­ing en­gag­ing his­tory lessons, some­thing that came as a sur­prise even to her. She dis­liked teach­ing so­cial stud­ies be­fore com­ing to Ce­cil­ton and usu­ally tried to find a part­ner teacher to teach so­cial stud­ies while she taught sci­ence.

But when she started at Ce­cil­ton, she was re­quired to teach so­cial stud­ies, so she dove into the ma­te­rial and worked hard to con­nect his­tor­i­cal events to the present day. In June, she was named the 2015 Mary­land His­tory Teacher of the Year.

Nei­ther that honor nor High­field’s recog­ni­tion as Teacher of the Year came as a sur­prise to prin­ci­pal Meghan Pugh, who nom­i­nated her for the teacher of the year award.

“(High­field) is in­no­va­tive and very pas­sion­ate,” Pugh said. “Her chil­dren are co­pro­duc­ers of the learn­ing that takes place in that class- room. It’s re­ally a com­mu­nity.”

And High­field’s ded­i­ca­tion to that learn­ing com­mu­nity means she didn’t spend much time sa­vor­ing her teacher of the year award.

On Thurs­day morn­ing, barely 12 hours af­ter giv­ing her ac­cep­tance speech, High­field was back in her class­room, sur­rounded by flour, bak­ing sheets and her ea­ger stu­dents, their hands gummy with dough as she helped them make hard­tack in prepa­ra­tion for their Fri­day field trip to the his­toric Sul­tana schooner in Ch­ester­town.

“In hind­sight I’m not sure that was the best plan be­cause I only got about two hours of sleep last night,” High­field said with a laugh. “But that’s the joy of fourth grade — they can help in this process. It doesn’t have to go per­fectly by my set, pre­scribed steps. I know if I give them a recipe that they can bake the bread. They un­der­stand why we’re do­ing it and it’s re­ward­ing to look back and see them cre­at­ing and learn­ing.”

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JES­SICA IANNETTA

Anne High­field, a fourth-grade teacher at Ce­cil­ton El­e­men­tary School, helps her stu­dents make hard­tack.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JES­SICA IANNETTA

Anne High­field (cen­ter) poses with CCPS Su­per­in­ten­dent D’Ette Devine and Ce­cil­ton El­e­men­tary School Prin­ci­pal Meghan Pugh af­ter re­ceiv­ing the Ce­cil County Teacher of the Year Award at a ban­quet on Wed­nes­day night.

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