NOTTINGHAM, MD—The National Association of State Boards of Education has named Michelle St. Pierre, a social studies department chair and magnet coordinator at Loch Raven Technical Academy, one of its four national Civic Engagement Champions for her work promoting civics education and active citizenship.
In partnership with the Frank Islam Institute for 21st Century Citizenship, the National Association of State Boards of Education created the Civic Engagement Champion award to highlight the critical role that middle school teachers play in helping students become active, responsible citizens. Teachers from four states representing each of NASBE’s regions—Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Washington—were eligible to apply.
St. Pierre and the other three honorees will be recognized during an awards ceremony on Friday, October 18, at NASBE’s Annual Conference in Omaha, NE, and will each receive a $5,000 cash award provided by the Frank Islam Institute for 21st Century Citizenship. They will also participate in a session on civics education during the conference.
St. Pierre, a resident of the Perry Hall/Nottingham area and a BCPS graduate (Timonium Elementary, Ridgely Middle, and Dulaney High), was BCPS Teacher of the Year for 2006-2007. She has worked at Loch Raven Technical Academy for 22 of her 26 years with Baltimore County schools. In her time at Loch Raven, she has worked to create and develop the Law and Finance magnet program that emphasizes civic and financial action and responsibility.
According to St. Pierre, her students were originally galvanized into action by the Parkland shooting and became advocates for policies that would reduce the impact of gun violence on their generation. “They organized our student walkout, gave speeches, and met with [then] State Senator Brochin to communicate what they think gun control should look like,” she said.
Last school year, the BCPS Office of Social Studies encouraged middle schools to use graphic novels and other materials to explore the theme of activism in the Grade 8 curriculum. Inspired by that unit, St. Pierre and fellow teacher Keith Lewis organized a Soapbox Competition, which gave students a chance to issue a call to action to their classmates on issues from racial equality to sexual orientation.
“Our students stood up and spoke about their passions and about the possibility of change,” said St. Pierre. “After two rounds of competition, the girl who won, infuriated by the college admissions scandal, wrote about equitable college admissions policies. The second-place winner took on the issue of gun control, and the young man who came in third looked at Title IX from the male point of view.”
“In the process,” St. Pierre said, “I learned so much about our students. I have been teaching for over 26 years, but they lit a new spark in me. I think, in this polarizing climate, we can get stagnant in our positions. Kids still see the possibility for change. They don’t see closed doors; they see the future. For me, it gave new meaning to being a social studies teacher. We need education to produce active citizens; without them, there is no democracy.”
Through the Soapbox Challenge, students determined that one issue they could directly affect at Loch Raven was the issue of discrimination and exclusion of students based on sexual orientation. As a result of their work, all teachers in the school will receive additional training on the issue on Sept. 30. St. Pierre notes that she now reviews her instruction and communications with an eye toward incorporating inclusive language.
The 2020 Soapbox Challenge has been scheduled for May.
“I am very proud of Ms. St. Pierre as she receives this Civic Engagement Champion Award,” says Principal Stacey R. Johnson. “She has been encouraging our students to get involved in various civic engagement activities for several years. Our students appreciate that fact that she helps them to have a voice and shows them one of the ways that they can be an effective part of the community. The entire Loch Raven Technical Academy faculty and staff congratulates Ms. St. Pierre.”
“We are delighted to honor these four teachers as our inaugural Civic Engagement Champions,” said NASBE President and CEO Robert Hull. “Each one of these individuals takes very seriously their responsibility as teachers to develop students who are prepared to play an active role in our democracy. They are role models for us all.”