Student excellence celebrated at Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education awards ceremony

The Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education hosted its annual Celebration of Student Excellence on May 2 to recognize the Class of 2023 and the students who demonstrate exceptional contributions in and out of the classroom.

Faculty, staff and graduating seniors in the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education gathered together on Tuesday, May 2, to celebrate the Class of 2023 and recognize outstanding seniors who demonstrate exceptional contributions in and out of the classroom.

Janie P. Brown Emerging Professional Award

Jenna Sudol ’23

The Janie P. Brown Emerging Professional Award is in honor of Janie P. Brown, professor emerita of physical education, who dedicated 39 years to Elon University. Brown served as chair of Elon’s Physical Education Department for 20 years, received the Daniels-Danieley Award in 1995 and the Elon Medallion in 2006, and has often been described as a trailblazer in the advancement of women’s athletics at Elon.

The Janie P. Brown Emerging Professional Award is presented to an adventure, health, and physical education major who has a record of university involvement, service and professionalism, and a minimum GPA of 3.0.

In her remarks, Carol Smith, professor of education, shared that Jenna has worked with Experiential Learning and Outdoor Adventures (ELOA), with Elon Outdoors and Challenge, Adventures in Leadership (AIL), and will serve as a coordinator for AIL this summer. In addition, she is an Honors student whose thesis title is, “Exploring the Impact of Social Media and Exercise Motivations on the Relationship between Physical Activity and Body Dissatisfaction.” During her time at Elon, she has studied abroad in Denmark and New Zealand. Her service includes working with It Takes a Village, Stop Hunger Now, the Mayco Bigelow Community Center, and the African American Community Center. Her ultimate goal post-graduation is to work in wilderness therapy, combining her majors in Outdoor Leadership Education and Psychology.

Arnold Strauch Award

Seven outstanding seniors were honored for their exceptional contributions in and out of the classroom with the Arnold Strauch Award. Those honored meet the highest academic standards, demonstrate superior student teaching performance and high levels of professionalism and have a great potential for contributing to the field of education.

Early Childhood Education – Caitlin Gorgei ’23
In her remarks, Portia Wade, lecturer in education, stated that, “Caitlin has blossomed into a passionate and committed early childhood educator during the past few years. Because of her, Pre-K students have learned to start their day with a ‘can-do attitude’, to relish moments of developmentally appropriate indoor and outdoor play experiences, to value creative movement exercises, explore critical and imaginative thinking, and that the simplest things in life are often the most fun.”

Caitlin’s Clinical Teacher, Sherri Spraggins, Pre-K Teacher at Andrews Elementary School in Alamance-Burlington School System, co-presented the award with Prof. Wade. Mrs. Spraggins shared a heartfelt short story her students wrote about their time with Miss Gorgei, highlighting, “she loved us and gave us hugs.”

Elementary EducationDani Toma-Harrold ’23
In her remarks, Katie Baker, assistant professor of education, highlighted the bounty of her accomplishments within teaching, research and academics. Dani was selected as the Intercultural Learning Certificate Program student speaker, she was awarded the Wilhelmina Boyd African & American Studies Scholar Award, she co-facilitated KidsGardening webinars, and presented at the American Educational Research Association annual conference.

In addition, “Dani has made learning an enriching, joyful experience for herself and her students. She grounds her research and real-time practice in anti-racist and abolitionist frameworks, considering how to cultivate joy and healing for learners; when in her classroom or learning spaces, you know she holds the utmost respect for her third graders and their identities.”

Dr. Baker also shared sentiments from Dani’s students and the most profound were, “Ms. T helps me learn and makes me laugh and is kind to me and makes me feel safe and happy everyday.” and “Ms. T is the rainbow in our cloud.”

Middle Grades Education – Emma Hallock ’23
In his remarks, Scott Morrison, associate professor of education, stated, “Emma has a sense of humor, charisma, a dedication to growth, is a critical reader and thinker, and is compassionate and empathetic. She is the kind of person others like to be around, where there is warmth, authenticity and joy.” In addition, he shared observation notes from Emma’s University Supervisor. Snippets included: “she demonstrates excellent content knowledge and rapport with students and does formative assessment to gauge student understanding of warm up.” Her Clinical Teacher has observed firsthand that Emma builds positive relationships with students and staff, plans engaging lessons, shows grace and patience with students, and loves professional learning. “Emma totally deserves this award. No one will be able to top this student teacher.”

History with Teacher Licensure – Heidi Weston ’23
In his remarks, Scott Morrison, associate professor of education, said, “One of the most important jobs a teacher has is to create a warm, dynamic, and inclusive environment – they have to hold space for all students, no matter where they are from, no matter what they look like, no matter who they love, no matter what they need. Heidi understands this and applies this. She is the most hard-working and determined students I have ever taught at Elon.”

Special Education – Amanda Westle ’23
In her remarks, Alicia Tate, adjunct assistant professor of education, said, “I’ve had the privilege of working with Amanda for a couple of classes prior to her senior year and was always impressed with her commitment to learning and student achievement. She has worked tirelessly to develop the necessary skills and knowledge for working in both a dual immersion classroom and a special education resource setting.”  Dr. Tate noted that it can be challenging to navigate so many different perspectives and individual needs in this type of setting. She shared with other faculty “what a joy it is to watch Amanda teach.” During her observations, Dr. Tate noted that she uses a variety of tools to engage students and to keep them focused and excited about their learning. Amanda “naturally incorporates a Universal Designed for Learning approach in her planning and in her collaboration and communication with students and colleagues at Eastlawn Elementary School. I am excited to see what she will do when she has a classroom of her own!”

Mathematics with Teacher Licensure – Isabelle (Izzy) Stimson ’23
In his remarks, Aaron Trocki, associate professor of mathematics, stated, “Izzy made numerous strides as a mathematician and educator since her first semester at Elon and well-deserving of this award.” As a student, Izzy has excelled and earned a high grade point average, contributed as a Teaching Fellow, and thrived as a Lumen Scholar. Her research has already informed the field of mathematics education with how to utilize learning management systems to promote student success. Her comprehensive investigation has led to one published peer-reviewed research report and six refereed presentations.

“This award recognizes Izzy’s outstanding efforts and accomplishments as a student and early career teacher. This award serves as an indication of the many future impacts you will make in STEM education. Congratulations!”, concluded Dr. Trocki.

English with Teacher Licensure – Zoë Rein ’23
In her remarks, Kim Pyne, associate professor of English, said, “I expect Zoë is once-in-a-career student, and I’m so grateful to have watched her grow over the years, and especially in the classroom during student teaching. As an ‘English person’ myself, I could wax poetic about her as skills a teacher – her unflappable patience with high school students and the challenge of convincing second semester seniors to engage. Her infectious joy in sharing Shakespeare as a performance text for students, achieving that massive cognitive lift through creativity, collaboration, and much laughter. She sets students up for rich discussions, eliciting their thoughts and ideas and then sticking with them until they’re clear in their own thinking. She offers students the chance to be responsible for their time and learning, balancing respect and freedom with a strong structure so they can make the right choices.”

Her students, too, were eager to testify to her impact this semester. They report that Zoë is “the most funny, thoughtful and engaging teacher” they’ve had, that she “takes her time with every individual in order to make sure they understand and are on track”, that she is “always understanding and a great problem-solver”, and ultimately that she is “the most kind and genuine teacher I’ve ever met”. She is “kind”, “happy,” “smart,” “caring,” and “persistent.”  She “always makes sure everyone feels seen and heard” and “no one ever feels left out.”

Kappa Delta Pi

Eighteen undergraduate and graduate candidates in the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education were inducted into Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society in education, through the Sigma Gamma Chapter of Elon University.

Organized to recognize excellence in education, Kappa Delta Pi elects those to membership who exhibit the ideals of scholarship, high personal standards and promise in teaching and allied professions.

At Elon, undergraduate members must earn academic excellence with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.60 or higher and the recommendation of three teacher education faculty members. In addition, the top 18% of graduate candidates are eligible for Kappa Delta Pi.

The Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education is proud of the following new inductees:

Meghan Brooks, Elementary Education

Kathleen Carmody, Middle Grades Education

Elizabeth Czenczek, Elementary and Special Education

Caroline Durham, Elementary Education

Grace Gallery, Elementary Education

Kirsten Garrison, M.Ed. candidate

Kimberly Manning, M.Ed. candidate

Issac Marsh, M.Ed. candidate

Casey Paulhus, Spanish with Teacher Licensure

Zoë Rein, English with Teacher Licensure

Caroline Sant, Elementary Education

Abby Saracino, Elementary and Special Education

Charlotte Stoddard, Elementary and Special Education

Dani Toma-Harrold, Elementary Education

Madison Trent, Elementary Education

Corey Waters, M.Ed. candidate

Amanda Westle, Elementary and Special Education

Elizabeth Yarbrough, Elementary Education