Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/1202tue2-02.html

This really adds up
Rodel Foundation creates an inspired method for rewarding great teachers
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 2, 2003 12:00 AM

Who likes math? All the kids in Linda Laneback's fourth-grade class.

When they come in the door, they find math challenges like the "pumpkin station," where they write estimates about its size and weight. They work on concepts like fractions in groups, doing practice problems in bright markers on erasable boards.

One boy performs a clever "math rap," while four girls praise the subject in a do-wop number.

So is it any surprise that these students do well on standardized tests? Absolutely. They go to a high-poverty school, Frank Elementary in Guadalupe, where 80 percent of the students qualify for subsidized lunches and more than a third don't speak English as their first language.

The great teacher who motivates unlikely students is a staple of movies. Think of Stand and Deliver or To Sir, With Love. But they exist in real life right here in the Valley. Under inspired teachers like Laneback, kids in poverty-stricken areas aren't doomed to fail. They flourish.

The Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona has come up with an ingenious way to encourage those teachers and create more.

The first step was to identify 10 outstanding teachers in the Valley's poorest schools, who will each receive a $10,000 savings bond. The awards were based on students' achievement test scores, principal recommendations and classroom observation. The Arizona Republic is profiling each of the 10 winners (read about today's winner on Page 1 of the Local section).

Step two is the brilliant part. The award winners will spread their skills by working with promising student teachers from Arizona State University for six semesters. ASU is kicking in a $1,000 stipend for the student teachers. To keep their talents, Rodel is offering a $10,000 savings bond for those who go on to work in a low-income Valley school for three years after graduation.

Rodel plans to make the awards annually, planting the seeds each year for 60 student teachers to learn from the best. In the span of a 35-year career, just that crop of teachers could touch 63,000 students.

Now, there's some great math.

The Rodel awards are based on results, and teachers use all types of techniques to achieve them. But foundation President Carol Peck can point to some common traits: There's no wasted time, teachers find ways to celebrate achievement at all levels and the classroom is alive with enthusiasm for learning.

Laneback, for instance, stretches her students' vocabulary by tacking up sheets of paper with a single adjective on each one. When kids are clearly up or down, Laneback asks them to pick out a couple of adjectives that best describe how they feel.

We've got two words to describe our mood today. Excited. Optimistic.