A Phoenix TFA Alum Is a Top 5 Finalist for Arizona Teacher of the Year
October 31, 2019
In 2011, new corps member Sheila Rowe stepped into her sixth grade writing classroom at Coyote Ridge Elementary School in the Glendale School District for the first time. Now entering her ninth year of teaching, she continues to teach at Coyote Ridge and has had an impact on the lives of hundreds of students. In 2014, she launched the Young Authors Project, giving students a safe space to express themselves through writing. Last year, her sixth grade students had the highest achievement scores in the entire district on the English Language Arts AzMERIT state exam. And this year, she has been named an Ambassador of Excellence and a top five finalists for Arizona Teacher of the Year, one of the highest teaching honors in the state.
After graduating from Trinity University – Texas, Sheila moved to Phoenix to join Teach For America. “I had an incredible experience in the corps. I still remember grabbing a coffee and a bagel to go, chatting with fellow corps members on the charter bus en route to Summer Institute, and the feeling of excitement teaching my first class of summer school students. I remember collaborating with my Teacher Leadership Coach, revising lessons, and color-coding data. But mostly, I remember feeling like I was a part of something larger than myself. I felt a sense of purpose, a sense of pride. Working with Teach for America and my school community, I felt an unwavering belief in our ability to do good, to help kids, and to change the world. Collaborating on that level and connecting with others for a common goal still reinvigorates me even today,” Sheila says.
After her first two years in the classroom, Sheila wanted to take her student’s writing education to the next level. So, in 2014, as a third year teacher, she started the Young Authors Project at Coyote Ridge. The purpose of the program is to instill a love for writing, bring in local authors as mentors, and fundraise to publish a novel. Under Sheila’s leadership, the program has conducted writing workshops, hosted whole-school author visits, sponsored an annual Sidewalk Poetry event, and raised $10,000 to fully fund five publication contracts. Participation in the club has transformed her young authors into confident and capable learners. Two have gone on to be Arizona State Barrett Summer Scholars, two have been selected to give graduation commencement speeches, and others have become student body presidents and promising thinkers and scholars.
“Working with Teach for America and my school community, I felt an unwavering belief in our ability to do good, to help kids, and to change the world. Collaborating on that level and connecting with others for a common goal still reinvigorates me even today.”
Sheila is proud of the results of the club, but she sees the work as deeper and more transformative for individual students and school culture as a whole. “It gives students a safe place to express themselves. Writing often becomes a tool to cope, heal, and bond with the community… My students write about a variety of topics: divorce, eating disorders, bullying, anxiety, medical issues, loss, incarceration, racism, and more. Each time a student opens up about an experience, it is a domino effect, and suddenly there is a whole conversation about issues that had been previously locked in silence. That is the first step. Our students should feel safe to speak openly. When we communicate, then we can take steps to healing our scars. The students who join Young Authors learn that their voice matters and that sharing life experiences helps each of us to learn and to be a stronger individual,” she says.
“Ms. Rowe is not only my past teacher. . .she is a caring person. I talk to her about my problems and she gives me advice. I look up to her. She is one of my role models. She is one of the strongest women I have ever met. When I look back, I realize something, she shaped me into the person I am today.”
Sheila remains committed to the students in her classroom and the community of Arizona, and that commitment grows stronger every day. Her students fill her with endless hope. “I believe in the potential of the next generation. I believe in our kids. I believe in our classrooms. I believe in us… We live in a demanding world, but here are our children not only coping, but thriving. I am so proud to be a part of that journey, to be one teacher among many, who played a small role in all these stories of success. It is these stories that make me optimistic. Together we can affect change. We can influence the future. With each student success story, the bigger picture for education gets a little bit brighter.”