CTD Educator Wins Teaching Award
By Ross Middleton
Whether in a kindergarten classroom, at a CTD Leapfrog site, or online, Meghan Rice brings passion and perspective to her work as an educator. Even during an unpredictable year of remote learning, Rice “still wants instruction to be rigorous, I still want it to be meaningful, and I still want the kids to be engaged and feel loved, and seen, and heard.” Her commitment to these values earned her a 2021 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, a highly selective honor bestowed on exemplary Illinois instructors teaching PreK through grade 3.
Rice received the award this May in a heartfelt ceremony at Willard Elementary School in Evanston, where she teaches during the academic year. “The experience felt surreal,” she recalls. “It was humbling and validating and exciting all at the same time.” It was also surprising: her colleagues and husband convinced Rice to visit the school after a year of teaching from home, and without revealing she had won the award. At the ceremony, Rice was praised for her work advocating for equity and for her widely known ability to make an impact in the classroom. “The recognition, for me, means that I have something meaningful to contribute to the learning community at large.”
Those contributions empower students, and Rice inspires young learners to practice inclusion, respect, and understanding. “We have very real conversations about race, about gender, about identity, about ability,” she says of her kindergarten classroom, where she gives students the tools to grow into knowledgeable, compassionate adults. With her guidance, students learn the importance of resolving conflict through dialogue and collaboration, and the meaning of self-worth: when a student expressed sadness because she felt excluded by her peers, Rice advised her to “choose people who choose you.” Rice attributes her outlook to her childhood, when she was placed in special education classes after missing school due to illness and hospitalization. She learned the value of the differences and abilities of her new classmates and worked to become a “bridge” between them and the rest of the school. “In the space of my classroom, I carry that with me,” she explains.
In 2018, she brought these experiences with her when she first taught Leapfrog classes in Skokie, IL. She was stunned by how much progress her students were able to make in a week when challenged academically and surrounded by like-minded peers. “What I realized in working with CTD, and what I was able to bring back to my classroom, is that if you create the appropriate supports for children and lift that ceiling, kids can reach it,” Rice says. She was also able to apply her background as a CTD instructor to her work as a Site Coordinator in Northbrook, IL, where she focused on problem solving and building connections with families. Rice calls her transition to the Site Coordinator role “amazing,” and she says the CTD team gave her the tools she needed to succeed in the new position. “I can’t say enough good things about the leadership and the level of support I had from the team of collaborative thought partners,” she says. “It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”
Though she has yet to work with CTD on a remote basis, the past year provided Rice with ample hands-on training as a distance educator. As an online instructor, Rice says she has had to “pivot and find ways to build meaningful relationships, and to create learning opportunities that yield positive outcomes towards our grade level standards.”
This involved an agile approach to teaching and expanding the boundaries of the classroom. Rice scheduled one-on-one sessions and family conversations outside of the traditional school day, and she learned about student needs by getting a glimpse of their home lives. Parents joined students on video calls, and Rice—a working recording artist—sang to her classes over Zoom. With a holistic approach to child development, Rice makes her profession personal, and she tells families at the beginning of each school year “I would like to do life with you if you’ll have me.”
Though this semester has ended, Rice shows no signs of slowing down in the coming months. Her Golden Apple Award includes a paid sabbatical, which she says she will use to take classes in educational administration. She serves on the boards of Youth Chorus of the North Shore, Childcare Network of Evanston, and her church, New Life Covenant Southeast. And this summer, Rice will welcome a second son to her family. Active, engaged, and supportive, Rice is motivated to create positive change inside and outside of the classroom. “My heart is to serve,” she says, “and to love people, and to find ways to get resources so that families can feel supported and have what they need to thrive.”
Ross Middleton is an independent writer and formerly part of CTD’s Summer Program staff. He received his BA in English Literature from Wesleyan University and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence.