2 educators honored as best in the county

Teachers at Southern High, Christian school win award

April 14, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Michael Bell still remembers the thrill he felt when, as a 5-year-old, he earned the top children's prize at a Havre de Grace art show.

Those feelings came rushing back last night as the Southern High School arts teacher was named Anne Arundel County's Public Schools Teacher of the Year.

He and Julie Z. Coleman, a fifth-grade teacher who won the private schools award, were cheered wildly by colleagues at an Academy Awards-like dinner ceremony.

"You work so hard over the years, it's not something you expect to be recognized for," Bell said after the dinner at the Marriott Hotel near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Each winner receives a $1,000 cash prize from Comcast, while Bell receives an additional $500 from the school system.

Coleman, who teaches at Annapolis Area Christian School, had a shocked expression on her face when her name was announced.

It is wonderful, she said afterward, to win praise for work done behind closed classroom doors.

Bell, 33, a Baltimore native whose parents are teachers, graduated from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., and is working toward a master's degree in fine arts from Towson University.

In his nine years at Southern, Bell has helped students show their talents outside school, from painting murals for local businesses and organizations to donating artwork for charitable causes. He started an arts contest that is underwritten by south county businesses, and helps students sell their work on ArtQuest, an online art listing service.

Bell also is working with Howard County educators to develop higher-level arts programs for gifted students.

Although he trained in art from a young age under the tutelage of his grandmother, a self-taught artist from New Jersey, Bell discovered he wanted to use his talents to help young people discover their artistic abilities.

In a written statement to the judges who eventually selected him, Bell described his passion for finding and nurturing talent in his students: "This is where the action is! This is art on art."

Coleman, 46, who has taught for 18 years mostly in Christian schools, was recommended for the private school award by her principal and several parents. They described her as a joyful, nurturing person who teaches according to each child's talents and weaknesses.

"She will forever be remembered in our household as one of the best," parent Amanda Memmel wrote to the judges.

Coming up with and organizing non-classroom school activities is a trademark of Coleman, a mother of four and church vocalist with a loud infectious laugh. She has run math carnivals, dress-up days, storybook parades and mock elections in which pupils register voters, build voting booths, conduct polls and tabulate votes.

Inspired by teachers in her school days, Coleman knew from an early age that she would go into teaching. In a statement to the judges, Coleman described feeling something like surprise when she received her first paycheck at a Calvert County school: "They were allowing me to teach - and they were actually paying me to do it!"

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