Victor R. Swenson AwardRecognizing an outstanding humanities educator
Past Swenson Award Winners
2017: Marsha Cassel, Rutland High School
A teacher at Rutland High School since 2011, Marsha Cassel is regarded among colleagues as an innovator and a “teacher of the 21st Century” for her work modernizing and expanding the curriculum and the teaching environment at RHS.
“Marsha has been the messenger, mentor, and champion for shifting our school’s pedagogy away from traditional content and towards more meaningful learning opportunities,” said RHS Science teacher Erica Wallstrom. “She pushes our students and faculty to identify problems in our own communities that need to be considered while guiding us towards being part of the solution.”
One innovation Cassel helped introduce to RHS is a Capstone course that guides students through independent research projects and instills in them a civics mindset, challenging them to take an active part in their own learning. Another new course, Global Citizenship, helps students build leadership skills and connections with the local community. Besides stimulating students to become better learners, Cassel has inspired colleagues to become better teachers—such as helping the World Language Department meet the goals of the Education Quality Standards and helping train the RHS staff in conflict resolution.
Cultivating a global perspective in her students and community is a priority for Cassel. After being awarded a Rowland Foundation Fellowship with fellow RHS teacher Erica Wallstrom, she and Wallstrom co-founded RHS’s Global Issues Network Conference, an annual event that brings together students and teachers, from around Vermont and around the world, to speak about global issues—and to take action. Cassel also leads the school’s Global Studies program, and helped forge a partnership between RHS and a sister school in Pont de Suert, Spain.
(Click on the plus sign to read about each winner.)
2016: Joyce Yoo Babbitt, Browns River Middle School
Joyce Yoo 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.
2015: Sunny Wright, Burr and Burton Academy
“Sunny cares deeply about students and is wholly invested in making our school better. She is a model Humanities teacher, an amazing human being, and a Vermont educator most worthy of recognition.” –Jen Hyatt, Academic Dean, Burr and Burton Academy
A teacher at Burr and Burton since 1999, Sunny has earned a reputation for bringing passion to her teaching and a strong devotion to her students, particularly in reading and writing instruction. She has taught every English and Social Studies core course in grades 9–12, an integrated freshman Humanities class, and many electives she designed, such as creative writing, journalism, and Holocaust Studies.
Sunny also makes every effort to bring in guest speakers that enrich her students’ learning, including a Holocaust survivor, a judge on a Bosnian international criminal tribunal, a Shakespearean actor, and a world-class poet. In addition to serving in several roles outside the classroom, Sunny is establishing Burr and Burton’s first writing center. For all of these reasons, VHC honors her with this year’s Swenson Award.
2014: David Holzapfel, Marlboro Elementary School
“David’s students are primed to be discoverers. The results in every area show David’s ability to capture students’ innate curiosity and to turn on their desire to succeed.” –Susan Calabria, education curator, Brattleboro Museum and Art Center
David brings to his teaching high expectations, a sense of humor, attention to detail, passion for his subject matter, and an unwavering dedication to instill in his students a lifelong love of learning. David’s creative integration of multiple subject areas, such as using art to enhance the understanding of geometry, earns praise from his colleagues for its innovation and effectiveness. His use of engaging experiences outside the classroom—notably a week-long field research trip to New York City with his sixth-grade class—is a highlight that students remember long after they leave the school.
2013: Wayne Bell, Mount Anthony Union Middle School
“A teacher that has his students believing in themselves, really believing, is a true gift. . . . [Wayne] truly embodies the highest commitment to service, growth, excellence, intellectual curiosity, and the value of personal creative expression.” —fellow MAUMS teacher John Cossa
VHC honored Wayne—and the audience at his award presentation honored him with a standing ovation—for his extraordinary dedication to the lives of his students, both within and outside the classroom. Multimedia teaching methods, enthusiasm, and deep knowledge of his subject matter all help Wayne connect with students. Outside of class, his selfless service to the school community—attending a funeral, visiting a student or student’s family member in the hospital, organizing a Caring Teachers Community Fund—speak to his personal investment in others. “[Wayne] is the go-to guy,” said Bell’s friend Jeremiah Evarts. “Students, parents, and teachers alike all rely on his steady and insightful guidance. In middle school, a large part of the educational experience is learning life skills. In this, there is no finer teacher [than Wayne].”
2012: Gary Johnson, North Country Union High School
“[Gary] utilizes many lessons and projects that give students ownership of their own learning. One of the things he said in our discussions . . . is that ‘if a lesson is designed well, then there are twenty teachers in the classroom, instead of one.’” — Jennifer Kennison, Director of Curriculum, North Country Union High School
VHC presented the tenth annual Swenson Award to Gary for his multifaceted approach to teaching and a commitment to forging relationships between his students and the greater community. A Language Arts teacher, his classes have included roundtable discussions with people such as Civil War historians, World War II veterans, and ministers of different religions; research of genealogies and land histories in the students’ own towns; participation in the national poetry recitation contest, Poetry Out Loud; mock trials; and scriptwriting workshops with a local stage company. Gary strives to bring the world into his classroom, and to send his students out into that world by harnessing community resources and directing learning in a way that trusts and accepts his students’ perspectives.
2011: Steve Barrows, U-32 High School
“Steve is a rare teacher. He is strict and demanding, yet affords great freedom and creativity to his students’ exploration of literature and the arts. . . . The U-32 community has benefited for decades.” — fellow U-32 teacher Amy Herrick
VHC recognized Steve, a teacher of literature, journalism, and film for more than thirty years, for inspiring his students with a distinctive curriculum and a hands-on approach. He has chaired the English department, served as advisor to U-32’s award-winning school newspaper, co-directed the school theater, and developed a filmmaking unit and many elective courses highly sought by students. Former U-32 teacher Joanne Greenberg said of him, “Steve blends expertise, compassion, and humor to engage his students and promotes probing intellectual discussion, creativity and excellence. He can take a class like Advanced Expository Writing, which many students enter with dread, and have them leave at year’s end not only as gifted writers but also as lovers of the craft.”
2010: Kendra Paupst, St. Johnsbury Academy
“Kendra is an inspiring colleague. [Her] enthusiasm is contagious. When observing her classroom, it is obvious that her students love learning from her and take risks with the language because she has created such a safe and fun place for them to learn.” —Sandra M. Mings-Lamar, assistant chair, St. Johnsbury Academy ESL program
A teacher of all levels of French, Kendra brings an infectious passion to her immersive teaching of French language, culture, history, and even cuisine. Addressing her classes in French only, Kendra uses a creative, challenging, and varied curriculum that includes bringing in guest French speakers—from countries like Guyana and Switzerland, as well as Quebec Premier Jean Cheres—to expose her students to the different accents of French-speaking parts of the world. When not bringing French language and culture to her students, Kendra takes them out to seek it with annual trips to Montreal and Quebec City. Vigorous and enthusiastic, Kendra’s teaching has contributed to the growth of her students and of the French program at St. Johnsbury Academy.
2009: John Peterson, Rutland High School
“Whether he is crafting period costumes with his students, taking them to the Northeast Atlatl Competition or leading a school-wide celebration of Darwin’s 200th birthday, John does everything with enthusiasm, expertise and good humor. No one is sure where his energy and passion come from, but if it were possible to bottle and distribute it, every student in the U.S.A. could have a world-class education that they would also enjoy.” —fellow Rutland High School teacher (and former student of John Peterson’s) Jennie Gartner
VHC honored John, a teacher of Social Studies, for over twenty years of tirelessly bringing fresh approaches to teaching to make his courses tangible and interactive. His infectious passion for history, along with his steady presence as a mentor, continues to make history real, relevant, and compelling for his students. “He is so friendly and outgoing and enthusiastic about everything,” remarked one of his students. “He puts an incredible amount of time into everything he does, and he honestly cares. That is a big difference.”
2008: Debra Lynde, Milton High School
“[Debra] is dedicated to excellence in her teaching and her students, and has made a tremendous difference in education in our community and our state.” –Milton High School co-principal Anne Blake
VHC recognized Debra for her commitment to literacy and her dedication to student writing improvement, which empowers her students and grew into a vital part of her school’s identity. She has developed curriculum that is now standard at Milton High School. Her prominence in the area of student writing improvement helped the school get noticed in 2003 when VHC sought a community to bring into its Intensive Creating Communities of Readers literacy grant program. A teacher of Advanced Placement in Literature and Language and a champion of reading and discussion of books, Debra brings high standards to her teaching and an infectious enthusiasm for the cause of literacy, which has opened doors for her students onto a lifetime of learning and engagement with the humanities.
2007: Jean Berthiaume, Harwood Union High School
“Whether we are deeply involved in student-led discussion, or Mr. B shares an inspiring story, I always leave with a new understanding or awareness about the world’s problems and a creative, yet viable, solution. His class has taught me and many others that we are the future.” —Harwood student Gabriela Meade
Wide-ranging support from colleagues, students, and administrators led VHC to honor Jean with the Swenson Award—fitting for Jean, said Harwood Union’s Maureen Charron-Shea, “because [Jean’s] mentor and inspiration was Graham Newell, the first recipient [of the award].” A champion of civic engagement, Jean teaches a creative and progressive Social Studies curriculum; one of his courses, Creating Sustainable Communities, explores democracy-related issues, environmental, economic, and cultural sustainability, and responsible citizenship. Jean’s enthusiasm and deep commitment to his students has helped them make connections between the personal and the global.
2006: Roberta Steponaitis, Vergennes Union High School
“[Roberta’s] commitment to bringing history alive for her students has given two generations of students a stronger sense of belonging to a place in history. She helps students to become scholars. . . . She inspires students to aspire more highly in their lives. She reaches out and taps them on the shoulder and says, ‘you would be good at this history project. Come on. Give it a try.'” — Dr. Carol Spencer, Director of Curriculum and Staff Development, Addison Northwest Supervisory Union
Since 1984 Roberta has taught US History, global religions, world cultures, civics, and current events—with a distinction that makes her a teacher who students remember long after high school for having made a pivotal difference in their lives. Roberta encourages the use of primary sources to investigate the lives of historical people, and takes students to museums and reenactments throughout the region. She founded the Otter Creek Basin Student History Club to encourage passion about history in her students, who have earned many local, state, and national awards. Her commitment to nurturing a spirit of inquiry and engagement made her a worthy recipient of the Swenson Award.
2005: Frankie Dunleavy Yeaton, Middlebury Union High School
“[My daughters] have come to expect to be challenged academically . . . to relate their work to other academic subjects and current affairs, and above all, to take personal responsibility for what they learn. My oldest daughter was so affected by [Ms. Dunleavy-Yeaton’s] example that she has decided to become a high school teacher herself.” —parent Margaret Clerkin
A teacher of French, Latin, and Spanish since 1980 and a multiple honoree in “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers,” Frankie earned another honor as the 2005 Swenson Award recipient. Her high-energy presence in the classroom inspired great effort and achievement from her students. Yet, noted friend, neighbor, and parent Margaret Clerkin, “Teaching for [Frankie] is much more than a job. It is a vocation that she lives in all her dealings with students.” That may mean chaperoning the prom, attending the concert of a student or numerous parent-teacher-guidance meetings, and helping organize and chaperone Middlebury High School trips to Europe and Costa Rica. Now retired from Middlebury but still teaching, Frankie has also served admirably as a member of VHC’s Board of Trustees.
2004: Mary Ann Chaffee, Essex High School
“Our Latin program IS Mary Ann Chaffee! I consider her one of the most talented teachers I have ever had the pleasure to observe. She is excited about her subject matter, in tune with the students’ abilities and is always looking for ways to improve her instruction.” —former Essex High School principal Armando Vilaseca
Known as mater (Latin for mother) to her students, Mary Ann Chaffee truly considered her “kids” to be family. She has devoted her life not only to the Latin language, but also to the culture and ethos of the Romans. Her students became infected by her enthusiasm; as one student expressed, “Mrs. Chaffee cannot contain her love for Latin. She unknowingly transfers it to her students. She doesn’t tell us that the lines of The Aeneid are beautiful, she exclaims it.” Whether preparing students for Latin Day at the University of Vermont, planning and supervising an annual Roman Banquet, or serving on boards and committees to which she was appointed, Mary Ann exemplified the very best in teaching and humanitas. VHC was delighted to honor her 38 years of inspiring students.
2003: Graham Stiles Newell, St. Johnsbury Academy
“It is fitting that Graham be the first to receive this award as his career as an educator spans several decades. Throughout his career, he has been a champion of the literate life, a model of academic excellence, and an inspiration for students and colleagues; he is the perfect choice for such an award.” —St. Johnsbury Academy Headmaster Tom Lovett
VHC inaugurated the Swenson Award by honoring St. Johnsbury Academy teacher Graham Stiles Newell as its first recipient. An inspiration to students and colleagues for more than six decades, Graham first taught history and Latin at the Academy from 1938 through 1947. For the next 35 years, he was a professor of History at Lyndon State College. In 1982, he returned full-time to his Latin classroom at the Academy, where he continued to produce national Latin award winners. Graham passed away in 2008, but his legacy touches many lives. Andrew Trask, a former student, wrote at the time of Graham’s award, “Mr. Newell has touched my life like no other individual. I will always remember the passion that he puts into his work. He sees education as one big subject, not something that is broken up into many [pieces]. This will stick with me for the rest of my life.”