Last Tuesday morning, Naja Freeman began preparing for what her principal said was a classroom observation by SACS school officials. So, she found it slightly disconcerting when her principal interrupted preparations and requested her immediate presence in a nearby meeting area.
The balloons surrounding a group of her students and other unfamiliar but smiling faces all let Freeman knew something else was afoot.
Indeed, the small crowd had gathered to congratulate Freeman, a 7th and 8th grade language arts teacher at Bunche Middle School, for winning the 2011 Atlanta Families Award for Excellence in Education.
The awards were created in 2006 to honor Atlanta Public Schools (APS) teachers and school leaders who demonstrate excellence in education.
Freeman was one of 11 educators selected for their specific commitments to raising student achievement, enhancing self esteem, and collaborating with other stakeholders for the benefit of APS students.
Each winner receives $7,500, which includes $3,500 to be used toward a project the winner chooses, $1,500 toward a professional development opportunity, and a $2,500 personal stipend.
“Kudos for successfully impacting and enhancing the lives of Atlanta's children,” her award email read.
The six year teaching veteran describes the profession as her “destiny.” She assumes many roles at Bunche. She is a grade level chairperson, head of the 7th grade student support team, and also a member of Bunche Middle
School's Transformation Team.
Equally dedicated to her students' personal development, the part-time doctoral student has established two mentoring clubs during her three years at Bunche. Rites Of Passage is a club for female students to gather and discuss life issues and modern challenges they encounter. The other club, RISE, guides male students facing academic and personal challenges.
Still, the part-time teaching and learning doctoral student at Georgia State University never refuses an opportunity to mold students. Two weeks ago, she started a girls dance and step team, although I don't know a thing about stepping,” she laughed. “I see it as another opportunity to gather kids [and] have them doing an enjoyable activity where they can also gain
She will use the portion of her award money allotted for a project to convert an outdoor space at Bunche into a peace garden full of flowers, small trees, and benches. After hearing her students concerns about bullying and the lack of serious effort to prevent it, Freeman decide to help them mount a physical symbol in support of anti bullying campaigns, and in dedication to
those who have lost their lives because of bullying.
Of course, another celebration is in order as well.
“My students will be getting a pizza party!,” Freeman exclaimed, revealing the surprise she has in store for her class. “We were all partners in this award.”