The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence has announced the winners of its 2019 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence awards honoring five outstanding educators in Oklahoma’s public schools.
Eisenhower High School's very own Michelle Churchwell was among the honorees. The awards will be presented at the foundation’s 33rd annual Academic Awards Banquet on May 18 at the Renaissance Tulsa Convention Center. Each of the five winners will receive a $5,000 cash prize and a glass “Roots and Wings” sculpture, designed by the late Oklahoma artist Ron Roberts and produced by Tim Brown of Edmond.
This year’s Medal for Excellence winners and their award categories are: Catherine Adams, a school counselor who teaches social-emotional learning and bullying prevention at Piedmont Elementary School, elementary teaching; Michelle Churchwell, English teacher and IKE Ignition Program coordinator, Eisenhower High School, LAWTON, secondary teaching; Dr. Rick Cobb, superintendent, Mid-Del Public Schools, MIDWEST CITY, elementary/secondary administration; Dr. Wayne Lord, professor of biology and forensic science, University of Central Oklahoma, EDMOND, regional university/community college teaching; and Dr. Keith Strevett, David Ross Boyd Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Oklahoma, NORMAN, research university teaching.
“We know that education is the best investment Oklahoma can make in its future,” said David L. Boren, founder and chairman of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a non-profit organization that recognizes and encourages academic excellence in the state’s public schools. “By honoring these exceptional educators, we are sending a message that we deeply value excellence in public schools and the professionals who have given so much of themselves to enrich the lives of our children.”
Michelle Churchwell, winner of the Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching, teaches English literature and composition and is the IKE Ignition Program adviser at her alma mater, Eisenhower High School in Lawton. Like her teaching mentors before her, Churchwell strives to instill a lifelong love for learning and service.
“My goal is for students to develop a love of literature and come to see it as the mirror it is for their lives, for our shared human experience,” Churchwell said. “I also want them to feel confident in their use of language as a powerful tool to tell their truth … to understand the critical literacy skills we practice in the classroom are crucial to active engagement in our democracy.”
Instead of assigning reading homework, Churchwell reads aloud literature to model phrasing, aid comprehension and encourage class discussion. “I love reading, and by reading with my students and enjoying the experience together, I am their mentor for developing what I hope is their lifelong love of reading.” In her composition classes, Churchwell focuses on rhetoric and persuasion, requiring students to seek out credible sources that don’t agree with their own stance on issues. She insists that their arguments are based on fact and reason versus emotion or partisanship.
In one of Churchwell’s favorite assignments, she reads students the children’s book “Something Beautiful” and shares items from her own life that have deep emotional significance, such as the Paddington Bear her father gave her as a child. In return, students pour their hearts out in their “Something Beautiful” essays, eager to share their own stories. Churchwell is surprised, humbled and honored by their vulnerability.
Churchwell is passionate about the importance of social-emotional learning for student success. She is advisor to several initiatives, including IKE Ignition, a program that matches freshmen with upperclassman mentors. The program engages students in community service projects and has raised more than $100,000 and donated more than 700 service hours to fight hunger in the community. Churchwell is also the advisor for Youth and Government, a program that prepares students as engaged citizens.
Student and IKE Mentor Samantha Cook credits Churchwell with teaching her to love reading and writing and for helping students use their voices to address social injustices, both locally and globally. “Mrs. Churchwell creates well-rounded students prepared to be productive citizens.”
In addition to presenting the Medal for Excellence awards, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence will honor 100 of Oklahoma’s top public high school seniors as Academic All-Staters at its May 18 banquet. The Academic Awards Banquet is open to the public, with admission priced at $50. For more information, call the Foundation for Excellence office at (405) 236-0006 or visit its website at www.ofe.org.
Check out Churchwell's bio: