M-W teachers awarded Collaborators of Excellence, Scholarship by NYS English Council

on May 11, 2018
Robert Irwin and Matthew Holbrook display their Collaborators of Excellence certificates.

Rob Irwin and Matthew Holbrook were recognized for their work with the high school’s Humanities program.

Congratulations to M-W High School teachers Matthew Holbrook and Robert Irwin who were named Collaborators of Excellence at the recent annual conference of the New York State English Council (NYSEC). The pair was honored for their Humanities 11 Program and work.  In addition, M-W High School teacher Kaitlin Blumberg was one of the inaugural Early Career Scholarship winners.

According to NYSEC web site, the Collaborators of Excellence award recognizes excellence in team teaching. The team must work collaboratively together and share responsibility for interdisciplinary curriculum, lesson design or instruction of a shared group of students. The programs and awards supported by NYSEC provide opportunities for professional leadership, promote excellence in English education, and foster collegiality and camaraderie among ELA educators throughout New York State.

“I was honored to even be considered for this award. Humanities is an amazing program to be a part of and I am encouraged daily by our student’s curiosity and passion for the subject matter. I am constantly inspired by Matt’s dedication to his craft and we both appreciate the continued encouragement and support of our work by our department chairs and administrators,” said Irwin.

Kaitlin Blumberg is recognized by NYSEC.

Kaitlin Blumberg (far left) is among those awarded the Early Career Scholarship.

The Early Career Scholarship Award is presented to up to five new teachers who have been teaching five or fewer years. The scholarship pays for full conference registration to the NYSEC conference that year, at which the recipient is honored, as well as a one-year membership to NYSEC.

Blumberg’s work focuses on how she revamped her execution of the ninth grade curriculum around the concept of compassion, and how she has been seeing a difference in her students’ willingness and ability to empathize with characters and conflicts in the stories they’ve read, proving their engagement with these texts is both more personal and more profound than in previous years. It will be submitted for publication to NYSEC later this month.

“These teachers represent the best of what educators should be:  innovative, dedicated, enthused to open minds and expand their students’ thinking, collaborative, and always, always, eager to learn how to be better teachers tomorrow than they are today. As life-long learners, they are role models not only for their students, but also for their colleagues in the profession. I am extremely proud of all three of them, and glad to see them honored for the important work they do and the professional way they do it,” said Michelle Bulla, chair of the Monroe-Woodbury English department.


We asked Mr. Irwin to share more about the award-winning Humanities program offered at M-W High School:

Q: How many students participate in the Humanities program?
A: It varies between 40 and 50 at the 11th grade level.

Q: How long has the program been in place?
A: This is the fourth year of the Humanities program. This is the third year Matt Holbrook and I have been working together.

Q: What does the curriculum include?
A: The 11th grade curriculum in ELA is American literature and social studies is American history. In my ELA course, I try to focus on exposing students to marginalized voices beyond the traditional canonical texts they may read. Mr. Holbrook and I view the Humanities program as an opportunity to explore perspectives that students may not otherwise be exposed to. We like to ask students to connect ideas they may be discussing in English or History class to contemporary issues.

For instance, we may read Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience” and discuss how his approach to overcoming social injustice can be applied today. Students are then asked to identify current social justice movements and talk about the way in which those groups are going about achieving their goals. We try to find unique and interesting ways to discuss modern issues using the past as a lens for our studies.

This year we traveled to Harlem for the second year in a row and attended a performance at the National Black Theatre and took a tour of the Apollo Theater. This is the end result of a series of units that asks students to engage with and appreciate the cultural legacy of African-Americans through art, music and literature.

Q: Do you co-teach? If so, how does that work?
A: Yes, Mr. Holbrook and I co-teach the Humanities class as well as align our curriculum in our English and Social Studies courses. For the Humanities period that we co-teach, we design lessons that allow students to think independently about complex issues. While students are reading, working or discussing in class, we try to serve as advisers, guides, and facilitators. Matt and I both bring our own unique interests into the curriculum and encourage students to do the same.

Q: How have the students responded to the program?
A: Students participate in class discussions very enthusiastically. They enjoy exploring topics from different perspectives, asking questions, and articulating their point of view. In addition, students have enjoyed participating in debates, which they prepare for and perform in groups. Some past debate topics are: 1) Should Columbus Day be a federal holiday?, 2) Should the Federal Government mandate paid parental leave?, and 3) Should the Federal Government be able to limit civil liberties during times of war? Students work collaboratively to make these debates informative for the entire class.

Q: What else would you like people to know?
A: This year students in Humanities are working on a new project called the Humanities Action Project. Students have initiated a course of action with the goal of make a positive change in their community, One group of students has initiated an effort to collect prom dresses and suits for fellow students who are unable to afford them while another group of students is collecting supplies for a local women’s shelter. Students are raising money for wells in Africa, acquiring toys for daycares, and collecting supplies for animal shelters.