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Exceptional future teacher joins Teach For America to follow her passion

May 5, 2014

In an age when college students pick a major before ever setting foot on campus, Lauren Edgar took a circuitous route at Arizona State University to discover her passion for teaching.

Named an Outstanding Teacher Candidate by ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, the talented and hard-working 2014 graduate plans to join Teach For America in June after having already produced classroom results that most educators strive for. Lauren Edgar posing in a grade school classroom Download Full Image

“Lauren has a goal-oriented mindset that produces exemplary work,” said Aaron Carman-Smith, ASU’s iTeachAZ site coordinator for Roosevelt and Isaac school districts in Phoenix. “She consistently exceeds expectations, yet is humble and always seeks feedback. Our other iTeachAZ teacher candidates see Lauren as a leader, and they look to her to share her ideas, teaching methodologies and resources.”

One of those ideas was an “AIMS math boot camp” Edgar developed for her fourth-grade students who had scored among the lowest in the school district on their third-grade Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) math test. Edgar has spent the last year completing her student teaching residency, known as iTeachAZ, at V.H. Lassen Elementary School in the Roosevelt district under mentor teacher Linda Gayles.

“I created a mock AIMS math test for the students, and used that data to see what kind of help each child needed,” Edgar explained. “Then, I spent 15 to 20 hours tailoring the boot camp curriculum to each student and providing the kids with individual study packets.”

Edgar’s time and effort paid off when her students achieved 80-percent math proficiency – among the school district’s highest scores – in an assessment used to predict the next round of AIMS test outcomes.

“I had extremely high expectations for them, and I knew they could do it,” Edgar said. “I always tell my kids, ‘I’m on your team and I’m on your side.’ They know I’m a student, and I talk with them about that. It helps them understand that they don’t have to grow up in a place like Scottsdale to get a college degree. If they work hard enough, they can do it.”

Edgar knows from experience about hard work, having been employed full-time at The Westin Phoenix Downtown hotel while student-teaching nearly 40 hours a week and completing her ASU education classes. She said she has worked as many as three jobs at once while pursuing her college degree: “It’s been a huge learning experience that has tested my perseverance.”

Growing up in Portland, Ore., Edgar credits her single mother, who had no opportunity for a college education, with instilling in her daughter the drive to succeed.

“From the beginning, I had a very strong woman in my life who was relentless,” she said. “My determination to do the best that I can comes from her. As a first-generation college student, it was never a question of 'if' I would go to college, just 'how' I would make it happen.”

Edgar decided to leave the Northwest and come to ASU as a way to mature and expand her horizons. That she did, exploring a variety of majors – from nursing and retailing, with a minor in Italian, to public administration and pre-law – before finally discovering education.

“When I got into my education classes, I knew I was home,” she said.

Edgar explained that her academic journey at ASU taught her a lot about her own learning style, and that has inspired her approach to teaching. She said she found out that she learns best when instruction is very visual, auditory, hands-on and kinesthetic. Consequently, she is determined as a teacher to connect with individual students based on how they learn.

To help her fourth-graders visualize cellular structure, for example, Edgar bought jello molds and had the youngsters build their own cells using jello, green M&M’s, raisins and Whoppers. She also used her own resources to purchase batteries, wire and light bulbs so her students could build simple electronic circuits in order to understand how they work.

“Being able to see the lights work, to physically see that, was so critical,” Edgar said. “I just gave them the materials and let them experiment. I kept asking, ‘What’s happening here?’ It took their unit vocabulary words off the page and connected them to something they did.”

After graduation, Edgar has committed to becoming a Teach For America corps member for at least two years, assigned to Dallas, Texas. According to the TFA website, 90 percent of the student population in the Dallas Independent School District receives free or reduced lunch, and only 14 percent are prepared for college. According to Edgar, it’s a perfect fit.

“For me, I have grown passionate about working in Title I schools, surrounded by communities with strong cultures,” Edgar said. “I share the same core values as Teach For America, both in what I want to achieve and what I want to provide for my students.

“I want to see what I can learn from the students, parents and community that will help me develop as a teacher. I don’t feel I’m done learning.”

See the full list of ASU graduates who are becoming Teach for America corp members.

FitPHX Energy Zones provide free activity, nutrition education to Phoenix youth

May 5, 2014

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, Councilman Daniel Valenzuela and the city's FitPHX program have partnered with Obesity Solutions, a joint Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University initiative, and Maricopa County Department of Public Health to create active Energy Zones that offer nutrition and fitness education to middle school-aged students.

The pilot for the Energy Zones began in March of this year at three separate locations: Burton Barr Central Library, Harmon Library/Harmon Recreation Center and Palo Verde Library/Maryvale Community Center. The pilot program will conclude on May 13, with plans to offer a new, expanded cycle in the fall. Students doing yoga Download Full Image

“Fighting for our kids’ health is one of the most important things we can do,” said Mayor Greg Stanton. “FitPHX Energy Zones is innovative, engaging, exciting and effective.”

“The goal of FitPHX is to boost health and wellness in the Phoenix area,” said Councilman Daniel T. Valenzuela, District 5. “Giving middle school students the tools for a healthy life will pay dividends for all of us for decades to come.”

Energy Zones offers two free weekly sessions for middle school students that cover a wide range of topics, including fitness, nutrition, portion size, body image and stigma. The participants gather to get active, make friends and form healthy habits.

“We are reaching out to middle schools in these wonderful communities,” said Nicole Haas, Obesity Solutions senior coordinator for the FitPHX Energy Zones. “The program provides education on healthy, active lifestyles in a fun, energetic format that the students get to choose and shape.”

The Energy Zones are facilitated by ASU interns who are typically majoring in global health, nutrition or other related fields. There are three interns per site who help plan icebreakers, discussion topics, activities, a snack and a “challenge” for the coming week.

ASU intern Ashley Dunbar described her role in the program as a teacher and mentor for the students. “We provide a safe, caring and learning environment where the students can socialize and grow with peers instead of going home after school where they might otherwise watch television or play video games.”

Dunbar went on to explain the positive impact that she’s having on the kids. “We play a role in teaching the kids how to make healthier nutritional choices. I am delighted when our students come back the next session eager to know what else there is to learn and do.”

“Over the course of the program, we were able to gain the kids’ trust, which helped us to encourage them to be the best version of themselves,” adds another ASU intern, Ashley Abbey. “Between day one to the last few weeks of the program, there’s been a change in these kids: they speak more boldly, don’t fear asking the silly questions and engage more fully.”

Interns assisting with the Energy Zones benefit as much as the participants, as they gain real-life experience and training. Facilitating the Energy Zones program helps the interns to hone their planning, problem-solving and interpersonal skills. The interns meet on campus once a week to debrief and plan for the next week, receiving guidance and feedback from experts at Obesity Solutions.

“This internship experience has been one of the more rewarding experiences I’ve participated in throughout my academic career,” Abbey said. “It has challenged me to call upon my creativity and understand how to present exciting activities in a library setting. I think my future career in public health will benefit from creativity. Thinking outside of the box can manifest fresh, and oftentimes successful, ideas.”

Dunbar also felt that she has learned a tremendous amount through interning with the program. “I have gained leadership skills as well as teamwork skills working with other interns, Arizona State University and the City of Phoenix,” she explained. “Along with that, working for FitPHX and the students has been a great hands-on experience. I’ve been able to apply classroom knowledge, such as nutrition and human anatomy, into a real-world setting. By being involved as a research intern I’ve been given the opportunity to help shape and modify a new after-school health innovation program for teens.”

Along with their teaching and mentoring activities, interns collect data from the students, which ASU researchers can use to determine the effectiveness of the program. Students who choose to participate in the research portion of the program wear activity monitors that tell the ASU scientists how big of an impact the Energy Zones are having on the student’s physical activity behaviors.

“The middle schoolers have been very enthusiastic about wearing the devices and tracking their activity,” said Obesity Solutions associate director Deborah L. Williams. “This has proven to be a wonderful motivational tool that really helps the students understand the health concepts and the value of accurate information.”

The three sites that host the Energy Zones were chosen because the children in those neighborhoods exceed the Maricopa County and national average for obesity and overweight. Additionally, each location is below the national median household income and contains large minority populations. The neighborhoods also have high percentages of children in the program’s target age range.

These Energy Zones are part of the broader FitPHX initiative, which is aimed at making the Phoenix region one of the healthiest in the nation. FitPHX is spearheaded by City of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, Councilman Daniel Valenzuela and Olympic Gold Medalist Misty Hyman.

Kathryn Eaton,
Obesity Solutions

Rebecca Howe

Communications Specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change