This article was corrected at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. An explanation for the correction appears at the bottom of the article.
An elementary-school teacher in Damascus was named a “Champion of Change” Friday during an event at the White House.
Silvia Rodriguez Macdonald, 44, who teaches English as a second language at Lois P. Rockwell Elementary School in Damascus, was honored for her efforts to improve the lives of her Hispanic students by improving student outcomes and helping to close the achievement gap.
The event was organized by President Barack Obama’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Ten educators nationwide were recognized Friday at the White House.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Macdonald, of Clarksburg, who was back in her classroom on Tuesday. “It was overwhelming.”
Macdonald has taught at Lois P. Rockwell Elementary for seven years.
The White House program was created as a part of Obama’s Winning the Future initiative to honor ordinary Americans doing great work in their communities. Each week the administration highlights a group of “Champions” in different sectors, ranging from education to business.
She was nominated for the award by Montgomery County Education Association representative Jon Gerson.
In addition to teaching between 45 and 50 students each year, Macdonald also serves as a member of Rockwell Elementary’s instructional leadership team and leader of its English as a second language team. She also is chair of the Montgomery County Education Association’s ESOL Labor Management Collaborative Committee, where she works to improve contracts for ESOL educators countywide.
“We have been able to influence change in the teacher’s contracts in regards to management time and work load,” Macdonald said.
Cheryl Clark, principal of Lois P. Rockwell Elementary, said it was an honor to have one of the school’s teacher recognized for their work.
“It’s an honor for [Macdonald], it’s an honor for our school, and it’s an honor for our school system,” she said. “There’s a lot that teachers do that the general public don’t know about, and I think this was a great way to recognize them.”
Macdonald was once an English Language Learner in school, and said her own background gives her first-hand knowledge of what it takes to learn a new language.
Macdonald was born in the U.S., but her parents are from Cuba and Spain.
She first became a teacher in 2005 after leaving a career in real estate. It was in her previous career that Macdonald said she first saw the increased need for ESOL educators.
“We did a lot of education of first-time home buyers, who at the time were predominantly Hispanic,” she said. “And that’s when I saw the need with the kids.”
On Friday Macdonald also took a tour of the White House, where she was able to see the president as he boarded Marine One. She also participated in a 30-minute panel discussion with the other honorees, as well as officials from Obama’s administration and the Department of Education. Panel members were given the opportunity to share best practices, models and teaching strategies. The discussion was broadcast live on the White House website Friday.
Macdonald said she emphasized the importance of reaching out to ESOL learners, their families and their teachers.
“I wanted to share how I advocate for Hispanic families and Hispanic students,” she said. “Their education is so important because they are the future of our country. We need to educate them and take away their worries.... When I look at some of the kids and how they struggle, we need have to take some of that away from them.”
At Rockwell more than 14 percent of its 441 students were enrolled in ESOL programs during the 2011-12 school year, according to school documents.
More than 15 percent of the student population was Hispanic. The growing population of students that could benefit from the ESOL program makes it an important service, Clark said.
“In a school like ours we’ve seen a big change in our population, and we need to adapt to be more culturally competent,” she said. “Our kids do very well, and I think it’s because [we adapt].”
Macdonald said the panel discussion helped her to learn about different teaching programs across the country.
“It was an opportunity for my own personal growth about education in the United States,” she said. “It was interesting to learn their formats compared to what we do here.”
Now Macdonald said she is looking forward to getting back into her work at school.
“I have to get back to work. I have to teach these kids. I like my job; I like to support my kids and the teachers,” she said. “I’m in a good school. This is what I love to do.”
This article was corrected to provide an accurate description of teacher Silvia Rodriguez Macdonald’s education. She was once an English Language Learner in school.