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VUHS’ Coffey in the running for Teacher of the Year

REBECCA COFFEY

VERGENNES — Vergennes Union High School Social Studies teacher Rebecca Coffey has been chosen as Vermont’s senior division nominee for Hannah E. (Liz) MacGregor Teacher of the Year award, which comes with a $10,000 prize and is sponsored by the National History Day organization.
According to the organization, each of the 58 National History Day affiliates may nominate one high school teacher for this award, with the nomination alone coming with a $500 bequest.
The teacher nominated, according to a National History Day press release, “demonstrates a commitment to engaging students in historical learning through innovative use of primary sources, implementation of active learning strategies to foster historical thinking skills, and participation in the National History Day Contest.”
In the past two years Coffey and Vergennes Union Elementary School teacher Josh Brooks — Vermont’s 2019 junior division nominee for the MacGregor award — have collaborated with students in the Addison Northwest School District’s afterschool program to create Vermont History Day projects.
National History Day Executive Director Cathy Gorn said the organization is pleased to honor Coffey and other teachers. 
“Teachers are among the greatest resources students have to develop the skills necessary to become critical thinkers,” said Gorn. “The nominees for the MacGregor Award have shown a dedication to teaching that goes beyond the classroom. I congratulate Mrs. Coffey on her well-deserved nomination.” 
According to the press release, Coffey and other nominees’ work “must clearly illustrate the development and use of creative teaching methods that interest students in history, and help them make exciting discoveries about the past.”
Coffey said it has been a joy working on Vermont History Day the past two years. 
“Vermont History Day is a wonderful way to share my passion for history and research with students of many ages,” Coffey said. “I love talking with them about their projects, what they are finding through their research, and how they will explain their knowledge to the judges. The enthusiasm these students bring to this project is inspirational.”
Under the encouragement of Coffey and Brooks, Vermont History Day has grown in ANWSD — they have revived what had been a successful program in the past under VUHS teacher Cookie Steponaitis and Ferrisburgh Central School teacher Kathy Douglas, both now retired.
The teachers and students meet on Tuesdays to work on students’ projects and monitor their progress. In 2017-2018 one ANWSD student participated, 13 did the next school year, and 17 have during the current year. Vermont History Day is open to students in grades 5 to 12, or home-schooled students ages 10 to 18. 
“Josh and I work really well collaboratively,” Coffey said. “I think the students love being together in a multi-age setting. Afterschool on Tuesdays is a really fun time. Everyone in the room is talking about history; it is an awesome experience for both the students and teachers.” 
Students work on complex, research-based projects for the Vermont History Day competition. Those projects can be presentations, research papers, performances, documentaries or websites.
On Vermont History Day — now set for May 2 — students are interviewed by judges, and they are scored based on a combination of the interview and how well their exhibit visually represented their research and addressing the year’s theme. This year’s is “Breaking Barriers.”
Those who fare well enough in the state go on to compete in the National History Day competition, which this year will be held virtually on June 18, when Coffey and other nominees will also learn if they earned the MacGregor Award.
Coffey does wish the students could meet their peers from around the state in April — and some beyond at National History Day — and go through the process in person. She admits to some mixed feelings about being honored during the current situation.
“It is bittersweet, though. There will be no in-person state competition day in April,” she said. “Vermont History Day is always so much fun. To see the students’ faces after talking to the judges in person is an incredible experience. I feel bad the students are missing out on this event. They have put so much effort into it.”

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