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Rutland High School Teacher Chosen for 2017 Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award

The Vermont Humanities Council has named Marsha Cassel, a World Language teacher at Rutland High School, as its 2017 humanities educator of the year.

VHC will honor Cassel with the fifteenth Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award on November 18 at UVM’s Dudley H. Davis Center at VHC’s fall conference, “The Double-Edged Sword of Technology.” VHC Board Chair Ben Doyle will present the award to Cassel at 8:30 a.m. in the Grand Maple Ballroom, along with a $1,000 check.

“The Vermont Humanities Council is proud and pleased to honor Marsha Cassel this year,” said VHC Executive Director Peter Gilbert. “It is thrilling to read what her colleagues have written about her and to talk with some of them is inspiring. She is clearly an exceptional person and teacher, one who is enormously talented and dedicated, and who makes an enormous difference not only to her students, but also her colleagues and her school as a whole.”

A teacher at Rutland High School since 2011, 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.

When the City of Rutland announced in 2016 it would be taking in refugees from Syria, Cassel volunteered to complete the training necessary to teach the new students English. On the refugee issue, “Marsha has been a leader . . . in devoting her outside-of-school time to helping the Rutland community understand and prepare for our new residents from Syria,” said RHS Principal Bill Olsen.

In the classroom, Cassel is recognized, like Swenson Award honorees before her, for demonstrating exceptional passion for and proficiency in teaching. “Marsha is simply an excellent teacher,” said Olsen. “Her knowledge and ability in languages and associated pedagogy is without peer. . . . Our students love Marsha, because they know she will move mountains to help them succeed, to help them grow.”

“Marsha is one of the most passionate teachers I know,” said Chuck Scranton, Executive Director of the Rowland Foundation. “You can’t help but be moved and even brought to tears if you’re in her classroom.”

Colleagues see Cassel not only as an inspiring teacher, but also as a teacher for the times. “In the current climate around our nation and our community,” said Olsen, “we need so many more educators like Marsha to help our young people—and our adults—understand and embrace the best qualities of our humanity.”

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

The Vermont Humanities Council is a private nonprofit working to bring the power and the pleasure of the humanities to all Vermonters—of every background and in every community. The Council strives to make Vermont a state in which every individual reads, participates in public affairs, and continues to learn throughout life. Because Ideas Matter.