Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Teacher wins Greenblatt award

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Clarksburg High School teacher Sean Kelly is the winner of the Marian Greenblatt Award for his work as a first-year specialeducation teacher.
Clarksburg High School teacher Sean Kelly knows that his special education students often feel misunderstood, so his philosophy is to get them to smile so they will be ready to learn.

That reputation for going out on a limb to make learning easier and fun is part of what earned Kelly, 26, of Westminster, this year’s Marian Greenblatt Award for his work as a first-year teacher.

He said he loves seeing his students mature in the classroom.

‘‘It is really exciting when you realize a group of kids sitting in your room is all yours,” Kelly said. ‘‘It would almost be like an artist with a blank canvas.”

The Marian Greenblatt Education Fund, named for a former member of the Montgomery County Board of Education, has been handing out first-year teacher awards annually since 1997. Kelly found out he won the award at the end of last month and he will be honored at an April 3 ceremony in the school’s media center.

Kelly coaches the girl’s junior varsity lacrosse team and boy’s soccer team at the school. He said the best part about working at Clarksburg High School, which is only in its second year of operation, is making personal connections.

Kelly said is committed to offering his special-needs students a creative learning environment. He has been known to bring a guitar and sing songs about historic subjects during class.

‘‘The kids I work with have emotional disabilities,” Kelly said. ‘‘If I was strict, I would have a lot more problems.”

Kelly learned many lessons about teaching from his mother, Susan Kelly, who has been a teacher for more than 25 years and a special education teacher at Damascus High School for the past four years.

Kelly said his mother was a big influence in his decision to become a teacher because he watched her enjoy teaching for many years.

Kelly graduated from Salisbury University with a bachelor’s degree in neuropsychology in 2004. His path to teaching began the next year when he participated in the Professional Immersion Special Education Cohort Program, which is a partnership between Montgomery County Public Schools and Johns Hopkins University.

Under the program, the county school system will pay for a student’s tuition and books if he or she agrees to earn a master’s degree in special education from Johns Hopkins and work for the county for five years.

Kelly worked as a long-term substitute last year as he completed his second year of the program and signed on as a full-time teacher last fall. He earned his Master of Sciences degree in special education last May.

Marshal Greenblatt, the founder and president of the Marian Greenblatt Education Fund, said he was impressed with how Kelly gives extra effort to connect with his students. Greenblatt said he heard that Kelly dressed up as a leprechaun and hid from students during a field trip to a corn maze in Frederick County last fall.

‘‘Sean Kelly seems to be one of those special people who try harder to get the job done,” Greenblatt said. ‘‘In today’s world, sometimes plain vanilla doesn’t work.”

Greenblatt said many people, including Clarksburg High School Principal James Koutsos, a special education resource teacher and two parents, recommended Kelly for the award.

Koutsos said Kelly is extremely prepared for the classroom and the entire school community is happy for him.

‘‘He is very innovative and creative in terms of the message he uses to convey information,” Koutsos said. ‘‘He will do things that are eccentric in order to communicate. The fact that he is willing to try things that are downright fun makes the difference in why so many students connect with him as a teacher.”