A retired math instructor from River Hill High teaches teachers tricks of her trade



Mary Jo Messenger retired from the Howard County school system after 26 years of service, but that has not stopped her from lending her expertise to math teachers from across the region.

For the past two weeks, Messenger, who most recently was head of the mathematics department at River Hill High School, has taught 20 teachers some of the tricks of the trade through the Maryland Governor's Academy for Algebra, a program sponsored by the Maryland Department of Education.

The program helps teachers strengthen their knowledge of algebra and data analysis, while furnishing them with skills to help their students pass high school assessment tests. Sessions are held for two weeks during the summer and for a week during the school year.

River Hill was one of seven sites in the state to serve as host during the two-week sessions, which covered such topics as learning styles and the use of specialized calculators. Classes, which are held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., are taught by two teachers, one of whom is in special education. Teachers receive handouts, textbooks and other material they can use during the school year.

"I think they [teachers] are finding that they are getting lots and lots of good resources to use with their students," said Messenger who taught teachers from Carroll, Montgomery, Howard, Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. "The primary thing they focus on is what are the ideas and strategies they can get and bring back to their classrooms."

More than 400 teachers applied for 300 positions, Messenger said.

Scott Ruehl, coordinator of secondary mathematics in Howard County, said teachers benefit from the extra training.

"The teachers from Howard County who have been through it have raved about it," he said. "They feel they walk away with a great knowledge. They have nothing but wonderful things to say about it."

Messenger said there also is an emphasis placed on cooperative learning and group activities.

Ruehl said Messenger is a phenomenal teacher. "Teachers learning from her will benefit greatly."

A little space

Twenty-eight of the most gifted and talented youths from around the state have gathered in Laurel at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for the past two weeks to learn about space technology and travel, under the watchful eye of Howard County's Elizabeth de los Santos.

The earth science teacher, who will teach ninth grade at Marriotts Ridge High School in the fall, has served as the program director of the Gifted and Talented Summer Center for Space Science for the past two years and said she loves watching the students learn and grow.

"We focus a lot on teamwork while learning high-level science," said de los Santos, who has taught ninth-grade earth science at Wilde Lake High School for the past five years.

She became involved with the program after being approached by John Quinn, the coordinator for secondary science in Howard County.

"I knew it would be a new experience for me," de los Santos said. "It would allow me to have more administrative experience."

The pupils -- sixth- and seventh-graders from nine counties -- have been building soda-bottle rockets; computerized Lego robots; towers from a variety of materials; and their biggest project, designing a National Aeronautics and Space Administration discovery mission.

Pupils have to follow the same guidelines used by NASA, de los Santos said.

"They have a budget of $300 billion," de los Santos said. "These are real guidelines. Their motto is `faster, cheaper, better.' They have to prioritize."

She has been assisted by other Howard County teachers, including Doug Spicher, an eighth-grade science teacher at Elkridge Landing Middle School, and Greg Duvac, a sixth-grade science teacher at Dunloggin Middle School.

Jonathan Alexander, a junior at Wilde Lake High School and a participant in the Howard County computer career academy, also has helped. He taught the pupils how to program their Lego robots.

Margaret Cellucci, outreach specialist for the state Department of Education, said the summer program has been in existence for nine years.

"This particular program is an opportunity for these young kids to be able to take their natural ability, foster their interest and turn it into a way to create things," Cellucci said.


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