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April 30, 2014

Two ‘Outstanding Teachers’ named in Lamphere district

Lamphere teachers receive countywide award for third year in a row

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Nichole Bontomasi gathers with students at Lamphere High to celebrate the surprise announcement that she had won Oakland County’s 2014 Outstanding High Teacher of the Year Award.
Fifth-grade teacher Lisette Battershell at Lessenger Elementary won Oakland County’s 2014 Outstanding Elementary School Teacher of the Year Award. This year marks the third consecutive year Lamphere teachers have received the award.
 

MADISON HEIGHTS — Each year, districts across Oakland County choose teachers they consider truly exceptional and nominate them for the Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award.

Nine judges, organized through Oakland Schools, review the nominees in six content areas and consider testimonials from colleagues, parents and students, as well. Ultimately, they select three winners — one at the elementary school level, one at the middle school level and one at the high school level. 

This year, two of the winning teachers are from the Lamphere district in Madison Heights. This marks the third consecutive year that the Lamphere district has had teachers win the award. 

Nichole Bontomasi is the winning high school teacher. She teaches predominantly 11th- and 12th-grade classes at Lamphere High, covering the subjects of government, law and current issues.

Lisette Battershell is the winning elementary school teacher. She teaches fifth-graders at Lessenger Elementary, covering all subject areas.

“It truly is an honor,” Bontomasi said. “I was truly honored to be selected by my peers in the building as a nominee, and then to win from all the hardworking high school teachers in the community.”

Bontomasi, a Richmond resident, has been teaching for 15 years at Lamphere High. Her entire career has been with the Lamphere district.

“I want my students to think,” Bontomasi said. “Everything I do is about challenging their thinking, and not just them accepting a simple answer. I want them to look at the 3-D aspect of any information. We talk about the gray area in here all the time — there is no black and white, essentially, with the topics I teach. And after I challenge their thinking, I want them to challenge their day-to-day thinking, as well. If they’re looking through a different looking glass here, I want them to look around and see how that affects everything else in their life.”

Project Citizen is one way Bontomasi challenges her students. The nationally known initiative is a student-driven component of her current-issues class. Students choose a public policy issue at the local, state, federal or even international level, and debate amongst themselves how to change it for the better.

One example might be the merits of a four-day school week over the course of an extended year. They’d research it from every angle and debate the best approach until the class reaches a consensus. Then the class breaks up into teams — a research division, an advertising team, and so on — and creates a presentation explaining their policy, presenting it to administrators in the building or other classes. They even identify an alternate policy and explain why it doesn’t work as well.

“It just comes together beautifully,” Bontomasi said. “When they’re done presenting, the group as a collective whole takes questions from the audience. It’s interesting to see by then their grasp of the knowledge and their ability to answer the questions that they didn’t anticipate. It’s a very powerful presentation.”

Another way Bontomasi engages her students is through Mock Trial Training, an after-school club where students analyze a legal case distributed by the Michigan Center for Civic Education. Students learn a modified set of rules meant to resemble a real court and divide into three groups — prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys and witnesses. The witnesses memorize the witness statements, while the attorneys come up with cross-examinations, present evidence and so forth. They then compete against teams from other schools at a competition in March.

“We’re judged not on our ability to win the case, but on our ability to do these things: speaking skills, presenting the evidence, and so on,” Bontomasi said. “It is really neat to see how they do it.”

Bontomasi also gets her students involved in community election work, manning the polls at local elections from dawn to dusk so they can see how democracy works.

“Toward the end of the year, my culminating lesson that all of the students remember is you can change the world,” Bontomasi said. “Nelson Mandela didn’t start out as a great man; he started out as a man complaining in a coffee shop to a group of friends. No one is born as that great person — they grow into that person, and you can do that, too. That’s the underlying theme to every lesson.”

For Battershell, teaching the elementary school students, she nurtures young minds as they begin to think outside of the box and work toward those greater thought processes.

“I believe that my role is to help guide and inspire a desire to learn in my students, not to be the ‘holder of all knowledge,’” Battershell said in an email. “My students are mostly 11 years old. That is the approximate time when a child’s brain begins to think in a more abstract manner, so I am always fascinated to see them move from the concrete to the abstract.”

The Rochester Hills resident, who has taught for nine years, all in Lamphere, said that multistep critical thinking problems are part of this process.

“In this day and age, I do not know what the future jobs may be, but as long as I can help to foster stamina and the drive to solve problems, I feel that my students can be successful, no matter what is thrown their way,” Battershell said.

For the past few years, Battershell has been working with the Oakland Schools on their Cultures of Thinking initiatives, which has partnered with Project Zero through Harvard University to place the teaching focus on the student’s unique “voice” and their thinking routines, resulting in learning at a more individualized level.

Battershell also coordinates the Lamphere district’s fifth-grade camp at Camp Michindoh in Hillsdale, where Lamphere students have gone the last 20-plus years. There, they engage in outdoor learning — everything from reptiles and amphibians to archery.

She said she’s very thankful for the recognition from her peers.

“I feel completely honored to even have been nominated, because I know how many incredible teachers there are in Oakland County,” Battershell said. “At my building alone, I am surrounded by compassionate, giving, intelligent, and innovative men and women who are constantly improving their craft.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.