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PHILANTHROPY IN ALASKA: PGA Golfer Phil Mickelson and ExxonMobil invest in Alaska’s teachers


Twenty-seven Alaskan elementary school teachers from around the state became students for a week at two of the three sessions of the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy held in Jersey City, N.J., and Houston this summer.

Twenty teachers—10 from Anchorage and 10 from Fairbanks—were chosen from a pool of applicants by their school districts to attend the regional academy in Houston June 18-22.

The teachers who attended the national academy in Jersey City July 22-27, applied through www.sendmyteacher.com. They were chosen from more than 1,000 applicants by a panel of judges from the National Science Teachers’ Association (NSTA) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Alaskan teachers who went to the national Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy in Jersey City are Jean Clifton, Northern Lights ABC School, Anchorage; Kelly Dau, Houston Middle School; Courtney Forbes, Susitna Elementary, Anchorage; Patricia McKenzie, Hogarth Kingeekuk Memorial School, Savoonga; Holly Miner, Hermon Hutchens Elementary School, Valdez; Teresa Monrean, Bear Valley Elementary School, Anchorage; and Lydia Wood, Chugiak Elementary School.

The teachers from the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District who attended the Houston academy are Barbara Keller, Pearl Creek Elementary School; Harvey Kurzbard, Pearl Creek Elementary School; Paula Addis, Pearl Creek Elementary School; Raeann Edwards, University Park Elementary School; Julie McHenry, North Pole Elementary School; Sandra Boyle, North Pole Elementary School; Alison Koss, North Pole Elementary School; Karen Mobley, Barnette Magnet School; Andra Rice, Crawford Elementary School; and Amy Summers, Curriculum/Content Coach for the Fairbanks North Star Borough District

Anchorage School District teachers who attended the Houston academy are: Laura Barron, Abbott Loop Elementary School; Kathleen Bell, Abbott Loop Elementary School; Marci Milwicz, Abbott Loop Elementary School; Shelby Theriault, Abbott Loop Elementary School; Sarah Baumeister, Susitna Elementary School; Nelson Hubbell, Susitna Elementary School; Virginia Hughes, Susitna Elementary School; Madeline Mott, Susitna Elementary School; William Shea, Campbell, Elementary School; and Virginia Gates, Anchorage School District STEM Department


Academy History

The Mickelson ExxonMobil Academy began in 2005. PGA Tour star Phil Mickelson and his wife Amy, along with executives at ExxonMobil, approached NSTA and Math Solutions to develop a professional development academy for 3rd through 5th grade science and math teachers.

NSTA is a nonprofit professional society of science teachers with chapters around the U.S. and Canada. Math Solutions is a provider of professional development for pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade math teachers.

“We worked together as a team to figure out how to integrate this whole thing,” says Gerry Wheeler, executive director of NSTA. “What kinds of things can we do in science that are particularly rich in math? The experience the teacher gets is not science or math but an integrated experience.”

“Math Solutions recognizes that the key element in student achievement is the teacher,” says Patricio Dujan, vice president and general manager of Math Solutions. “When we were approached by ExxonMobil we welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the growth and development of classroom teachers.”

NSTA and Math Solutions designed the curriculum for the three academies: the national academy in Jersey City and two regional academies in Houston and New Orleans. Teachers who attend the regional academies are chosen from the communities around the country where Mickelson plays golf tournaments and where ExxonMobil has a significant presence.


Teachers as Students

For one week, the teachers who attend one of the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academies are treated as students.

“Not only were we discussing the pedagogy and the learning,” says Kelly Dau, who teaches seventh grade math at Houston Middle School, “but we were also experiencing it.”

The teachers conducted experiments in forces and motion. Academy instructors gave the teachers a set of materials and guided them to figure out what to do with them to reach a particular solution.

“Having to do it backwards made me do a lot more thinking about what was going on—and for those students for whom direct instruction and teacher talk and all that doesn’t work, this could really turn a child on, who is creative and likes to figure out things,” says Patricia McKenzie, reading and response to intervention facilitator at Hogarth Kingeekuk Memorial School in Savoonga.

“For a long time, learning has been focused on just getting the right answer,” says Amy Summers, content coach for the Fairbanks North Star Borough school district. “This type of learning is engaging students to think about why they got the answers they got and how they got the answers they got.”

The teachers took part in kinesthetic learning activities. They graphed how people walk. They collected data and learned how it can be manipulated and reported. They learned a way of science and math notation in grid-paper notebooks that provides their students with a place to record their thoughts and drawings on their experiments.

Nelson Hubbell, who teaches fourth grade at Susitna Elementary School in Anchorage, attended the Houston academy. He said the teachers worked hard at the academy, particularly on a 10-hour web-based assignment extending their lessons on Newton’s Laws. The experience has changed his posture in the classroom and his students have responded.

“I think (the kids) like being given questions to answer and inquiries to resolve on their own,” says Hubbell. “I think they like the respect inherent in my standing back and letting them figure things out. They get a little frustrated sometimes but that’s the nature of learning, I guess.”


ExxonMobil’s Involvement

Truman T. Bell was the project manager for ExxonMobil who worked with NSTA and Math Solutions to put the academies in place. He says the company’s involvement is an investment in future leaders in math and science.

“Our goal for the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy is to ensure that teachers have the confidence and tools to inspire young people in math and science, encouraging lifelong learning in these subjects and hopefully even preparing them for careers in these fields,” says Bell, now headquarters manager for community relations at ExxonMobil.

Mickelson says he wanted to fund these academies because he has always been fascinated by math and science and he understands the important role they play in maintaining the strength of our country as a world leader in those fields.

“Our programs give (teachers) ways to become inspired and to inspire their students in math and the sciences,” says Mickelson, “and that’s crucial because studies show that if we don’t capture kids’ imaginations and enthusiasm before they get to junior high, then it’s very difficult to get them involved later.”

He and his wife Amy have taken part in the Jersey City Academy, which he says is one of the highlights of the couple’s year.

“To see (the teachers’) enthusiasm, their passion and their joy, is incredible, “ he says.

The partnership between the NSTA, Math Solutions, the Mickelson Foundation and ExxonMobil has conducted 20 sessions of the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy since 2005. Together, they have trained more than 3,600 teachers.

NSTA hired an independent observer, David Heil and Associates of Portland, to study the impact of the academy. The firm projected that the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy has impacted the lives of more than 230,000 students across the country.

“If a good portion of those kids go on to a life in science,” says Mickelson, “then our program is a success.”


Michele White is a journalist living in Anchorage.


This article is a web exclusive to the December 2012 edition of Alaska Business Monthly.
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