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West Haven High School

West Haven High's Liam Leapley is an incredibly inspiring teacher, says recent college grad Alice Obas -- which is why she successfully nominated him for a highly prestigious teaching award.

West Haven High School teacher Liam Leapley, '00, was nominated for the award by Alice Obas. "Mr. Leapley has not only upheld the values of equity and inclusion during his teaching career but has also instilled those values in his hundreds of students, and in me," says Obas, who recently graduated from Williams College.

With graduation fast approaching, Alice Obas, then a senior at Williams College, was considering an important question in addition to planning her next phase of life: who, among her former teachers at West Haven High School, had the most influence on her education?

Such contemplation is a rite of passage for seniors at Williams, who, each year, are invited to nominate their former teachers for the George Olmsted Jr. Class of 1924 Prize for Excellence in Secondary Education.

For Obas, the choice was obvious: Southern alumnus Liam Leapley, ’00, a special education teacher at West Haven High who also leads the Program for Accelerated Credit Recovery in Education (PACE) at the school. Leapley designed and implemented PACE and, years ago, worked closely with Obas when she was a talented high school student serving as a teaching assistant with the program.

“While the Olmsted Prize is for nominating former teachers, and I was not a part of the PACE program, I feel that I learned and was taught more from Mr. Leapley than my AP [advanced placement] and Honors classes taught me out of a book,” says Obas. The judging committee was inspired as well, selecting Leapley as one of only four recipients of the Olmsted Award. In recognition, he received $3,000, and an additional $5,000 was presented to West Haven High. The award is particularly prestigious in light of the college’s standing: it’s been cited repeatedly as the top liberal arts college in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and Forbes, including this year.

PACE — an intervention program for at-risk youth in grades 8 through 12 — incorporates outside the box approaches to education, including a community-based work experience component, to reignite students’ interest in learning, “Every child can move forward, but you must be willing to work with them no matter where they begin and at which pace they move,” says Leapley, who’s been a special education teacher since 2000 and led the PACE program since 2009.

Award recipient Liam Leapley, ’00, receives an award for exceptional teaching at the high school level at Williams College’s Ivy Exercises.

His influence, notes Obas, has been profound and far-reaching. “Mr. Leapley has not only upheld the values of equity and inclusion during his teaching career but has also instilled those values in his hundreds of students, and in me,” she says.

Southern has historically been a leader in the field of education, with graduates of the School of Education earning many top awards at the state level and beyond. Among the honorees is Jahana Hayes,’05, who was named the National Teacher of the Year in 2016 and went on to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

When the 250 individuals attending a recent forum at Southern that analyzed the 2014 gubernatorial and midterm Congressional elections were asked whether they had ever donated money to a political campaign, dozens of hands were raised. A similar number acknowledged that they had volunteered for a campaign.

Ordinarily, the response may not have surprised too many people. After all, those who would come out at lunchtime to hear an analysis about the 2014 political landscape are probably political engaged. And those who are politically engaged are more likely to contribute to a campaign, either with money or time.

But what made this an eye-opening moment was that more than half the crowd consisted of high school students. And it was clear that many of those kids were among those who hoisted their hands into the air at those two questions about political activism.

About 130 students – hailing from six high schools in the area (Amity of Woodbridge, Cheshire, East Haven, Hillhouse of New Haven, Seymour and West Haven) – attended the forum at Southern called, “Election 2014: Polls, Pundits & Popcorn.” Walking through Southern’s Grand Ballroom, you could see some of the high school students taking notes as the panel of speakers shared their analyses about the elections.

Amity High School students listen intently during the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.
Amity High School students listen intently during the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.

While the students were generally those in honors or Advanced Placement (AP) social studies classes, it showed a real engagement of young people in the political process – a healthy sign for the future of our democracy.

Cheshire High School, for example, has a Young Politicians Club, which includes students with a range of political views.

Most of the Cheshire High School students attending the SCSU forum are members of their school's Young Politicians Club.
Most of the Cheshire High School students attending the SCSU forum are members of their school’s Young Politicians Club.

West Haven High School’s AP U.S. Government and Politics students were enthusiastic about attending a college lecture before the event taught by Art Paulson, chairman of Southern’s Political Science Department.

Art Paulson, chairman of the SCSU Political Science Department, delivers a lecture on the history of midterm elections to advanced West Haven High School juniors. The talk came just before the start of the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.
Art Paulson, chairman of the SCSU Political Science Department, delivers a lecture on the history of midterm elections to advanced West Haven High School juniors. The talk came just before the start of the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.

The forum included a look at polls, TV ads, campaign strategies and some historical analysis of state and national elections. The event – a veritable summit of Connecticut’s political analysts – included Power Point presentations by Jennifer Dineen, director of the University of Connecticut poll, and Laura Baum, project manager of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Jennifer Dineen, director of the UConn poll, analyzes the Connecticut gubernatorial race.
Jennifer Dineen, director of the UConn poll, analyzes the Connecticut gubernatorial race.
Laura Baum, project manager for the Wesleyan Media Project, discusses the advertising 'air wars' between Democrats and Republicans in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
Laura Baum, project manager for the Wesleyan Media Project, discusses the advertising ‘air wars’ between Democrats and Republicans in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

It also included a panel of three of the top political scientists in Connecticut:
*Art Paulson”, chairman of the SCSU Political Science Department
*Gary Rose, chairman of the Sacred Heart University Government/Political Science Department
*Scott McLean, professor of political science at Quinnipiac University

Art Paulson makes a point during the panel discussion. Also pictured are: Scott McLean (left), professor of political science at Qunnipiac University, and Gary Rose, chairman of the Sacred Heart University Department of Government and Political Science.
Art Paulson makes a point during the panel discussion. Also pictured are: Scott McLean (left), professor of political science at Qunnipiac University, and Gary Rose, chairman of the Sacred Heart University Department of Government and Political Science.

Christine Stuart, editor-in-chief of CTNewsJunkie, an online news publication that focuses on governmental and political stories, served as the moderator.

Seymour High School students pause for a moment outside the SCSU Grand Ballroom.
Seymour High School students pause for a moment outside the SCSU Grand Ballroom.
Hillhouse High School students gather.
Hillhouse High School students gather.
East Haven High School students take a moment.
East Haven High School students take a moment.
Amity High School brings a large contingent of students.
Amity High School brings a large contingent of students.
West Haven High School students swarm in the lobby before the event.
West Haven High School students swarm in the lobby before the event.

“Democracy works best when the citizenry is engaged in politics and government,” Paulson says. “The fact that so many high school students indicated that they are already active and enthusiastic about elections and campaigns is a positive sign for the future of our country. I hope it will be a lifelong interest.”

The forum is available online via CT-N.