By: Alicia Sands Lurry
Dr. John Blackwell of Sarah Smith Elementary School and Ingrid Gonzalez, a senior at Benjamin E. Mays High School, have been named the 2018 Georgia Department of Education STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Recognition) ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher and top STAR ESOL student, respectively. Both were surprised with the special recognition on Thursday, April 19.
Meet this year’s winners:
Dr. John Blackwell – STAR ESOL Teacher
While serving as a fourth-grade teacher, Dr. Blackwell identified a need to more effectively serve his growing English learner population. During the 2013-2014 school year, he completed the ESOL endorsement at APS and became an ESOL teacher at Sarah Smith the following school year. In 2017, he received the school’s Multicultural Ambassador Award.
Dr. Blackwell’s ESOL classroom is characterized by active engagement, student inquiry, problem-solving, innovative use of technology, project-based learning, and collaboration. Rather than positioning himself as a dispenser of knowledge, he actively seeks to create student-directed learning experiences that honor the funds of knowledge ELs bring to his classroom. A facilitator and co-explorer, he encourages learners to question, challenge and formulate their own ideas, opinions and conclusions.
For the past two years, Dr. Blackwell has organized and implemented with the assistance of his ESOL colleagues an after-school tutoring program that focuses on increasing reading and math achievement for English learners at Sarah Smith. The tutoring program currently serves 62 English learners.
Dr. Blackwell also sponsors “Reading Reward Dinners,” a program he created to inspire his students to love reading. Once students meet their reading goals, he takes them out for dinner at a restaurant using his own money to fund the award. Praised for his positive influence on peers, students, and families, Dr. Blackwell is known for finding ways to connect parents to the learning happening in his classroom.
Dr. Blackwell’s other responsibilities include serving on the literacy committee and the La Amistad Advisory Committee and presenting during ESOL professional learning communities to his ESOL colleagues throughout the district. His classroom often serves as a model classroom for new and existing ESOL teachers.
“Dr. Blackwell is a teacher-leader who is committed and invested in his school community,” said Margaret McKenize, coordinator in the Office of Teaching and Learning. “Dr. Blackwell is dedicated to his students and his school. The commitment and passion he demonstrates for serving English learners, their families and his colleagues have rightly earned him the title of 2018 GADOE STAR ESOL Teacher.”
Ingrid Gonzalez – STAR ESOL Student
A native of Mexico, Ingrid Gonzalez began attending Atlanta Public Schools in third grade at Fain Elementary School, and later matriculated to Harper-Archer and Young Middle schools. She currently has a 3.5 GPA and has taken several honors level course, as well as Advanced Placement European history, AP Spanish and AP psychology classes. Ingrid serves as president and founder of the school’s Cultural Diversity Club; president of Skills USA; vice president of Beta Club; and is a member of Future Business Leaders of America, the National Honor Society and BELLES.
Maria Moses, ESOL teacher (and 2016 GADOE STAR ESOL Teacher) at Mays High School, referenced Ingrid’s compassion for others, her dedication and her commitment as defining characteristics.
Moses said that Ingrid immediately stood out in ninth grade.
“As an ESOL student, Ingrid made it her duty to immediately connect to all ESOL newcomers, ensure that they felt comfortable in all of their classes, and inform parents about basic supplies that students needed at school,” Moses said.
In 2015, Ingrid decided to create a club where diverse students would come together and celebrate one another’s uniqueness. The Diversity Club was formed. Since its formation, the club has invited several motivational speakers, civic leaders and former ESOL students and parents.
“Under Ingrid’s leadership, the club has created fantastic programs for the school, including celebrations for Hispanic Heritage Month and International Day.”
After graduation, Ingrid plans to attend college. Although Ingrid hasn’t decided where she will attend, Ingrid is committed to achieving her dreams and helping others along the way. She has received several scholarships and admission letters from numerous schools.
“She truly is a STAR student,” Moses said.