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Browns River Middle School Librarian Honored with 2016 Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award

babbitt_joyce-webThe Vermont Humanities Council has named Joyce Yoo Babbitt, Librarian of the Browns River Middle School in Jericho, as its 2016 humanities educator of the year.

VHC will honor Babbitt with the fourteenth Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award on November 5 at UVM’s Dudley H. Davis Center at VHC’s fall conference, “Looking at Leadership through the Humanities.” VHC Board Chair Ben Doyle will present the award to Babbitt at 9:00 a.m. in the Grand Maple Ballroom, along with a $1,000 check.

“Many of us remember one or more special teachers we had in school who challenged and inspired us in important, formative ways,” said VHC Executive Director Peter Gilbert. “The influence of such teachers on their students is immeasurable, and it never ends. In honoring one such teacher, we pay tribute to all the fine teachers in the profession in the Green Mountain State and we honor the important work they do.”

Babbitt has been librarian at Browns River Middle School for fourteen years. A unanimous choice for the Swenson Award, Babbitt has combined exceptional enthusiasm for teaching with technical proficiency and a sense of fun to create an inspired learning environment at her school.

“From the moment I met her I realized this was a special educator,” said Willie Lee, a fellow teacher at Browns River Middle School. “Although Joyce is an exceptional librarian, she is truly an inspiration to the students and adults in her presence. She doesn’t just command a room full of books, she commands a center of learning that enriches the educational experience of every student.”

In addition to providing students guidance and support for their own class projects, Babbitt is known for creating and leading numerous clubs that offer experiential learning, including a winter writing club, a photography club, an animation club, and a claymation club that produces an annual film festival. Babbitt also leads a read-a-thon, oversees student production of the annual school yearbook, and brought Vermont History Day and National History Day to the school, helping students prepare presentations that have earned them nominations and awards in the National History Day contest.

Each November, Babbitt guides students through National Novel Writing Month, devoting three afternoons a week and often Saturdays. “I thought students would never choose to sign up for such an activity,” said Pamela Billings, a parent of a BRMS student. “Yet [because of] Joyce’s electric enthusiasm for writing and deep understanding for what motivates her students, more than 100 students and teachers sign up each year.” Last year thirty students submitted completed manuscripts of their novels.

Colleagues and parents also noted Babbitt’s inventive use of technology to open up new and exciting learning opportunities. “Joyce has made the library a media production paradise,” remarked Lee, citing her use of green-screen in the Animation Club to bring alive student storytelling. Through the use of Skype, Babbitt has enabled exchanges between BRMS students and those around the globe. It is this multi-faceted approach to teaching that, in the words of BRMS parent Connie Arceneaux, “provides an environment that creates a love for books, integrates technology, and invites students to a safe and comfortable place to work on multiple projects. . . . Any time you walk into the library there is a flurry of students in groups or alone working, reading, writing, creating, and sharing.”

Above all, it is Babbitt’s simple enthusiasm for teaching and her way with kids that may shine brightest. “One of Joyce’s secrets to success in engaging all the students is her loving ability to reward them in various ways and showcase their successes,” noted Arceneaux. “As a parent, I am amazed at her commitment . . . and her willingness to go above and beyond what is expected to see the students succeed.”

“She is very open to everyone,” said Faryal Afsar, a high school student who never had Babbitt as a teacher but received her encouragement and support anyway. “She knows how the world can be changed by the kindness of people like her.”

About the Swenson Award

VHC created the Swenson Award in 2003 to recognize a Vermont educator on an annual basis and to honor Victor R. Swenson, the Council’s first executive director. The award is given to a Vermont educator in grades 6 through 12 who exemplifies excellence in the teaching of the humanities.

About the Vermont Humanities Council

A statewide nonprofit organization founded in 1974, the Vermont Humanities Council seeks to engage all Vermonters in the world of ideas, foster a culture of thoughtfulness, and inspire a lifelong love of reading and learning.