McCann Teacher Presented Berkshire Educator Award
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. - Cynthia Roper-Patenaude numbers among the special events in her life graduating from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in May 2004 with a degree in English - and graduating again in 2008, with a master's of education.
In the waning days of spring, Patenaude, 29, returned once more to MCLA for a special event. Now an English teacher at McCann Technical School, she was presented Wednesday night with the first annual Berkshire County Educator Recognition Award.
A joint effort by MCLA , the Berkshire Compact and superintendents' roundtable, the Berkshire County Educator Recognition Award program was launched with a nomination process in mid April.
"The selection committee was struck by the quality and scope of impact of the nominees," said Cynthia Brown, vice president of academic affairs at MCLA, speaking of the 11 nominees.
Brown, college President Mary Grant, Mayor Richard Alcombright (former longtime McCann School Committee member), McCann Superintendent James Brosnon, and other officials and educators gathered at Smith House on the MCLA campus on Wednesday to recognize Roper-Patenaude's efforts in the classroom. The award is something the college had wanted to do for some time, said Grant.
"This is a time more than ever for us to recognize teachers," she said, because "so much is at stake." "I just want to say thank you to the teachers. ... We need to do this more."
In presenting the award to Roper-Patenaude, Brown described her teaching of English and literature as "you meet students where they are and bring them to another place."
McCann Principal Kathleen Millard notified Patenaude in April that the administration was recommending her for the award.
"It was an incredible honor to be nominated and to be in the ranks of those who have substantial careers. I have only been teaching for seven years," Roper-Patenaude said.
Her affinity for teaching surfaced when she was just a schoolgirl. "I enjoyed working with younger children and trying to teach them new skills," she said. "Writing poetry with my eighth-grade English teacher inspired me with teaching aspirations. Another important teacher in high school kept my dream going."
Roper-Patenaude teared up and hugged her parents, saying teachers don't get recognized a lot. "This is an overwhelming honor ... it means a lot especially from my alma mater."
In an earlier interview, Millard praised Roper-Patenaude for possessing all the qualities a principal likes to see in teachers: dedication, sincerity, caring, organization and being a team player.
"Cyndi has certainly left her mark on our students," Millard said. "She has a natural gift for working with students and getting them to see the value of an education. They leave her classroom better people, in many ways, than when they entered."
A native of Towson, Roper-Patenaude attended schools in her hometown until it was time to go to college. "I wanted English with a concentration in creative writing," she said, explaining why she chose MCLA.
Despite how much Patenaude liked teaching youngsters and how well-prepared she was to do so, she said her first year at McCann was overwhelming. "I had seniors and I was only four years older."
Too, it was different from what she had expected. "You start out thinking it will be what you learned in college, but you have to improvise," she said, adding "I think that kids are a lot different nowadays. It's a challenge to reach them on a level they can relate to."
But Roper-Patenaude has embraced the challenge, calling it "a good thing." She consistently encourages students to reach their full potential. When students walk into her classroom for the first time at the start of the school year, they see on the blackboard a quote, attributed to Van Gogh: "I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream."
And Roper-Patenaude, who earned a professional license in English Grades 8-12 in May 2010, develops lessons that are engaging. "I try to keep it [learning] as interesting as possible," she said.
Sustained Silent Reading is one of McCann's reading programs that happens to be Roper-Patenaude's favorite. "The goal is for each student to find a book they enjoy reading," she said. She takes pleasure in suggesting novels for the students to read, and finds it especially rewarding when a reluctant reader devours a book she has recommended.
Roper-Patenaude initiated the McCann Book Club, which meets every other Wednesday after school. "It is one of my proudest achievements," she said. "I have seven dedicated members that never cease to amaze me."
The book club could use more funding "[but] the opportunity to share in the love of reading and discussion are impossible to turn down," she said.
The club has taken seven field trips to local cinemas to view movies of the books they have read. "It is a diverse group of students, but they get along very well," she said. "It's awesome."
McCann students have a full academic and technical curriculum, Roper-Patenaude pointed out, and the book club is an opportunity for them to participate in an enriching extracurricular activity.
Roper-Patenaude was teaching a few weeks ago when Millard, Brosnan and Assistant Principal Justin Kratz approached her. "They asked me to step out [of the classroom]." Roper-Patenaude said. "It was intimidating!"
As it turned out, they informed her that she had been selected to receive the Berkshire County Educator Recognition Award.
"I was not prepared for it," she said. "It was unbelievable."