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Examiner
  • Sycamore Hills teacher selected for fellowship with U.S. Department of Education

  • When Stephanie Merriott began filling out an application to become a U.S. Department of Education Fellow, she thought it was a long shot she would be chosen. But the teacher at Sycamore Hills Elementary School in Independence decided to completed it anyway.

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  • When Stephanie Merriott began filling out an application to become a U.S. Department of Education Fellow, she thought it was a long shot she would be chosen. But the teacher at Sycamore Hills Elementary School in Independence decided to completed it anyway.
    When she found out that she was one of 15 teachers to be selected, Merriott described the feeling as “surreal.”
    “When I hand people my business card, I still have to do a double take to believe it’s my name under the Department of Education seal,” she said. “I feel like it is such an honor. It is an amazing opportunity to actually have a voice for teachers at the Department of Education. They really want to know what teachers think. I also feel that I have been charged with a huge responsibility to represent, and give a voice to, all of the teachers in the trenches.”
    This is the third year for the Teaching Ambassador Fellowships, which were created to give teachers throughout the United States an opportunity to participate in policy development as well as to contribute their expertise to discussions related to education. Fellows can then share what they have learned with other teachers in their districts.
    Merriott teaches fourth grade at Sycamore Hills.
    “As a Fellow, I am learning as much as I can about policy, while scouting out opportunities for teacher outreach and education, such as educational conferences, speaking to college students majoring in education, organizing panel discussions and attending Blue Ribbon School ceremonies, among other things,” she said. “I am working closely with the regional Department of Education office to get the most out of being a Fellow and to create opportunities to share as much as I can with my colleagues.”
    In the application, Merriott was required to talk about her academic contributions, leadership experience, thoughts on policy issues and communication skills.
    She then went through a telephone interview in which more questions were asked, and then she finally sat down for a face-to-face interview in Chicago. A few days after the interview, she said, she was hired.
    “Classroom fellows are full-time teachers who also work for the department collaborating with policy makers on national education issues,“ she said. “Our job is to learn as much as we can about the department’s policies and resources, share this information with other educators and stakeholders, and then share our and other teachers’ perspectives and thoughts with the department.”
    This year’s group of fellows was selected from more than 500 applicants from teachers and instructional specialists. Applicants came from teachers at every grade level and instructional area in urban, suburban and rural school districts.
    Merriott is the only 2010 Fellow from Missouri. In addition to her selection to the ambassador program, she is one of seven fellows who have achieved National Board Certification. The voluntary program helps to certify teachers who meet certain standards. The 10-part performance assessment includes video portfolios, analysis of classroom practices and evaluation of content knowledge.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I believe that the fellowship makes me a better teacher because I am learning so much. I am modeling being a lifelong learner to my students,” she said.
    “They think it’s pretty cool that I work for the government. The look on their faces when I was explaining the job to them was one of awe and ‘Wow! My teacher works for the feds!’ Being able to share firsthand experiences with my students about policy making is relevant to their understanding of government, so it’s exciting to give them a little inside scoop.”
    In addition to teaching, Merriott is founder and sponsor of the student newspaper at Sycamore Hills, has been a Student Council sponsor and is the Building Teacher of the Year.
    She said it is hard to pinpoint why she became a teacher, but why she has stayed a teacher is easy.
    “I stay in education because I feel that it is one of the most important jobs in the world,” she said.
    “It isn’t always easy, it isn’t always pleasant, but it is always rewarding. Teachers have a huge responsibility in determining what our country will look like in the future. As students experience better education, a better future is inevitable.”
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