Teacher Corps Fellows Raise Funds for Dollarway District Class Projects

Delaney Wells, a Arkansas Teacher Corps Fellow, leads a discussion with her third-grade students at James Matthews Elementary in the Dollarway School District, which serves parts of Pine Bluff.
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Delaney Wells, a Arkansas Teacher Corps Fellow, leads a discussion with her third-grade students at James Matthews Elementary in the Dollarway School District, which serves parts of Pine Bluff.

Two fellows of the Arkansas Teacher Corps raised more than $2,000 through a crowdsourcing app to purchase books and supplies for the Dollarway School District.

Dominique Bonilla, a 2016 fellow, and Delaney Wells, a 2018 fellow, have raised $2,193 through DonorsChoose to purchase materials for classroom projects in the Dollarway district, which serves parts of Pine Bluff.

Bonilla raised $608 last spring and $1,003 this fall to purchase 108 culturally relevant young-adult novels for her classroom library and a document camera for modeling active reading strategies. In her second year at Dollarway High School, she teaches English 10, Pre-Advanced Placement English 10 and Critical Reading. She also serves as the district's English for Speakers of Other Languages coordinator and previously coached the school's majorette dance team.

"My goal this year was to help my students really learn to love reading," Bonilla said. "The opportunity to have so many relevant young-adult novels in my class lets students exercise independent choice in their reading. Also, having multiple copies of books has allowed them to read with their friends and stimulate discussion. I am so thankful for the generous donations that made this possible."

A native of Springdale, Bonilla graduated from the University of Arkansas in May 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in theatre before joining the Teacher Corps. Since, she has developed her practice further by pursuing a Master of Education in reading through the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She plans to one day pursue school leadership.

Dollarway High School Principal Yolanda Prim praised Bonilla's commitment to shared leadership for student success.

"I see a spark when she talks about her students learning," Prim said. "She's very student-driven because it's all about the students: What can I do? How can we get others involved? She wants everybody to be on the same page, and she's driven in making sure the whole child is covered — not just by what she's doing in her room, but in how we can all reach that child."

Bonilla's students are reading the texts as part of their participation in a multidistrict book club with three other English teachers and over 200 10th-grade students at Dollarway, Palestine-Wheatley, McGehee and Ouachita high schools. All book club novels address prejudice and injustice, providing students an opportunity to learn from their peers and make connections to their own lives. Participating students must write a culminating essay in which they draw upon examples from the text to address how an individual's response to prejudice or injustice reveals their true character.

According to Prim, the multidistrict book club has been successful at encouraging positive relationships across districts. "When we played McGehee in basketball, several students recognized one of the McGehee players as someone participating in their book club," Prim said.

The other fellow, Wells, raised $582 to purchase 10 dictionaries, four balance-ball chairs, two bean bag chairs, 48 passport notebooks and four floor-map puzzles. In describing her project to potential donors, Wells emphasized the importance of resources that empower students as independent learners.

"How can students be expected to learn vocabulary and spelling without having a resource with which to look up tricky words?" Wells asks. "My students need to learn to use dictionaries as a resource rather than simply having me spell out words for them (or more likely have me simply push them to sound it out)."

A first-year teacher at James Matthews Elementary School, Wells graduated from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education before joining Teacher Corps. She has a minor in music and often infuses her lessons with the arts. She was the 2014 valedictorian of Charleston High School.

Drawing upon her experience with child development theory, Wells goes on to explain how the various items contribute to a classroom environment that stimulates students' curiosity.

"The floor map puzzles, personal passports, and travel units go along with mine and my students' interest in learning about the world around us. Map puzzles are a great way to make learning geography hands-on, and passports make the concept of traveling in the classroom more real and concrete."Teacher Corps addresses teacher shortages in high-need districts based on geographic regions and specific critical content areas designated by the Arkansas Department of Education. Teacher Corps's mission is to recruit, train and support exceptional, social justice-oriented individuals to serve as teachers for Arkansas students who need them the most.

Since the program began in 2013, Arkansas Teacher Corps has recruited trained, and supported more than 125 teachers who have served over 10,000 students in 30 Arkansas school districts. Teacher Corps teachers have taught 750-plus courses, led more than 100 clubs or teams, and written over 15 classroom grants. Moreover, eight Teacher Corps teachers have been named Teachers of the Year by their districts.

To become a Teacher Corps fellow, applicants are required to have a bachelor's degree in any major, a record of academic success and a community-focused mindset emphasizing leadership and service learning. Teacher Corps fellows attend a rigorous seven-week residential summer training, which includes over 150 hours of professional development and clinical practice as a summer school teacher.

Individuals selected as Teacher Corps fellows commit to teaching for three years in a high-need school district, must pass all required educator licensure tests and participate in ongoing professional development and coaching throughout their Fellowship. Upon successful completion of the program, Teacher Corps Fellows receive their standard five-year teaching licenses.

The corps is accepting applications for its 2019 Fellowship. College seniors and degree holders of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to apply before March 1. Applications and additional information can be found on its website Join page.

DonorsChoose is a website where teachers can post classroom project requests and donors can choose the ones they want to support.

About the Arkansas Teacher Corps: The teacher corps is a partnership among the University of Arkansas, Arkansas Department of Education and 23 school districts in the state. Its funding comes from a collaboration among the U of A College of Education and Health Professions, the Walton Family Foundation and the state Education Department as well as individual donors through the Arkansas Teacher Corps Society.

Contacts

Brandon G. Lucius, executive director
Arkansas Teacher Corps
479-575-6418, blucius@uark.edu

Ben S. Pollock, communications
College of Education and Health Professions
479-575-4554, bpollock@uark.edu

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