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Meet the Innovators: Top 10 Symantec Teach For America Finalists

Created: 29 May 2014 • Updated: 29 May 2014
Jaime Barclay's picture
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Finalists for the Teach for America Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards were announced last week. Go behind the scenes and meet the innovators—and be sure to vote for your favorite!

Great teachers don’t just teach the future, they invent it. Finalists for the Teach For America Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards were announced last week. Now is your chance to help select the winners.

What makes an innovative teacher? From STEM education to promoting entrepreneurship to using Instagram to engage students, these teachers have gone above and beyond to inspire their students. These 10 finalists were selected for their innovation, collaboration, and measured classroom results.

Meet the teachers who are changing the way their students learn, and vote for your favorites before June 2.

Behind the scenes with the finalists

Reading scores jump from 12% to 70%—Alissa Changala and Sarah Batizy

“We wanted them to understand that every action, no matter how small, impacted both their grade in the class and their future.“—Sarah

In October 2013, only 12 percent of the ninth-graders at Alissa and Sarah’s high school were on-track or advanced in their state’s reading standards. Six months later, 70 percent had achieved that goal. These two innovators developed personalized, rigorous, and engaging online lessons that students move through at their own pace.

Vote for Alissa and Sarah!

Watch Alissa and Sarah talk about their innovation.


Technology skills to succeed in college and beyond—Angria Sceusi

“My favorite is when my kids tell me they’re not good at math, then realize they are good at math—they just needed some practice.”—Angira

Angira wanted to give her students the technology tools needed to succeed in college and beyond. So, she developed and implemented a computer-based geometry curriculum complete with online practice, assessments, and research. Since starting the curriculum, Angira’s students have outperformed every other geometry class on campus by five to 30 points on every assessment.

Vote for Angira!

Watch Angira talk about her innovation.


Using Instagram to raise students’ grades—Emma Ellman-Golan

“I see my students for about 80 minutes a day … only 5 percent of a 24 hour day. I use Instagram to connect with them so they can keep up with what we’re doing outside of the classroom as well.”—Emma

With little technology in her classroom, Emma decided to take advantage of her student’s smartphones by creating an Instagram account to facilitate learning around the clock. She posts photos of things she does in her everyday life that connect to science, as well as deadline reminders and student work. The account has helped show her students that science exists outside of their textbooks.

Vote for Emma!

Watch Emma talk about her innovation.


Early entrepreneurs: Student businesses/non-profits—Hardy Farrow

“[Teaching] should be about the idea that our kids should have this chance to take something that is their own and make it into something they can pursue for the rest of their lives.”—Hardy

Hardy created the Let's Innovate through Education (LITE) program to empower students to develop their own businesses or nonprofits. The goal of the program is to inspire students to make their community a place they’ll want to live in for the rest of their lives while developing their leadership potential. Participation in the program helped Hardy’s students grow from five percent proficient to 75 percent proficient in government in a matter of nine weeks.

Vote for Hardy!

Watch Hardy talk about his innovation.


An after-school leadership academy helps students find their voice—Kristina Pham

“Every week we focus on a quality of leadership and do a project that gives us the chance to experience it. My favorite word I’ve learned so far is collaboration because I get to work with people I didn’t know before.”—Ximena, fourth-grade student.

Kristina developed an after-school Leadership Academy for fourth- and fifth-grade special education students who struggle with demonstrating responsibility in the classroom. Students practice skills like collaboration, communication, and flexibility and work with community resources such as the library and the Humane Society.  After the Leadership Academy, students demonstrated an increase in classroom participation, independent project completion, and higher academic benchmark scores.

Vote for Kristina!

Watch Kristina talk about her innovation.


A summer of STEM learning—Liz Chen, Dale Hammer, and Grayson Cooper

“Having a growth-mindset means you can use experiences that others often view as failures in order to better yourself.”—Austin Watkins, senior and program participant

Liz, Dale, and Grayson established the Northampton Summer STEM Program, a four-week summer program that challenges students to think critically, work as a team, and embrace a growth mindset. Students complete project-based courses in math and science and an introductory computer science course, and developed websites for small businesses in Roanoke Valley. In addition to gaining content knowledge, participants reported their attitudes changed favorably towards STEM majors and careers.

Vote for Dale and Grayson!

Watch Dale and Grayson talk about their innovation.


Improving educational outcomes with healthy eating habits—May Tsupros

“I was on lunchroom duty when [a student] asked me what I was eating … a blueberry … After that I became a lot more conscience of what my students were eating and how it was affecting them.”—May

May co-founded Gardeneers, a nonprofit that helps schools create amazing school garden programs that teach healthy eating habits and hands-on science, supply students with nutritious food, and strengthen the community by getting families involved in school. In its first year, Gardeneers is now serving four schools across Chicago.

Vote for May!

Watch May talk about her innovation.


Working Overtime: Connecting families, teachers, and students—Rachel Warbelow, Ben Salkowe, Emily Bassier, and Raymond Gonzalez

“SWOT for us is not like a program, it’s like our family.”—SWOT participant

In 2010, Rachel and Ben started the Scholars Working Over Time (SWOT), an extended-day, college-prep program for underserved middle school students in East Las Vegas. Now in its fourth year, SWOT serves 120 seventh- and eighth-graders in which they work together with families to track academics, attendance, and behavior through an app they developed. The program has helped reduce the number of students who struggle with grades and/or behavior.

Vote for Ben!

Watch Ben talk about their innovation.


Leveling the playing field in Silicon Valley—Ramon Sanchez

“They’re not only reading, they’re using math, science, writing, and computer skills.”—Ramon

Last year, using classroom computers and Google software, Ramon worked with his students to create PowerPoint projects on topics they were studying, graph class data with Excel, create websites, and master Word. Ramon took this idea to his principal and now leads professional development for his coworkers on new ways to explore technology in the classroom.

Vote for Ramon!

Watch Ramon talk about his innovation.


Reaching students with more than lectures—Travis Dempsey

“It’s changed the culture because every student is engaged. And it’s also changed the results.”—Travis

Travis created a math bar for his sixth graders to use in conjunction with the lessons he teaches. At the math bar—in that back of his classroom—students work independently and collaboratively at laptops. Students often choose to come to school early and on Saturdays to use the math bar. As a result student’s standardized test scores have increased significantly, and other teachers are now implementing similar systems.

Vote for Travis!

Watch Travis talk about his innovation.


Vote for the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards today

Across all subjects and disciplines, Symantec believes that excellent teaching is innovation. In celebration of teaching as innovation, the 2014 Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards competition was opened to the more than 21,000 Teach For America alumni teachers and current classroom corps members. The five corps members who receive the most votes—from the 10 finalists—will be granted a $1,000 personal award and a $1,500 resource grant to help scale their innovation, as well as an all-expenses paid trip to Teach For America’s Alumni Educators Conference in July.

The deadline to vote for this year’s most innovative teachers is June 2. Help play a role in recognizing outstanding Teach for America teachers who demonstrate original thinking, ingenuity, and innovation.

For more on the award and Symantec’s partnership with Teach For America read our previous blog:

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Meet the Innovators and vote for those teachers inspiring greatness. @TeachforAmerica and @Symantec Innovation Awards  

Jaime Barclay is Symantec's Corporate Philanthropy Program Manager.