Students in the Marion School District won’t be back in classrooms until Monday, July 26, but school has already begun for the district’s new teachers. The district calls it the “Patriot Academy,” and it is a way for teachers who are new to the district to meet each other, learn about Marion, and get some of the things they will need to ensure their success throughout the school year.
A total of 46 teachers took part in the program, held Monday, July 12, at the Marion Performing Arts Center. New teachers received district information, learned classroom management tips, took a bus tour of the entire district, heard from keynote speaker Liz Huntley, and more.
One of those new teachers is Jim Essman, an experienced educator who has worked in seven different districts during his teaching career. This year, he will be teaching math at Marion High School.
“Being able to take part in the Patriot Academy was very reassuring,” Essman said. “I appreciated the positive atmosphere. I haven’t seen something like this in any of the districts I’ve work for, especially with the focus on love and relationships, and building on those two things.”
Tonya Leland is another experienced teacher who took part in the Patriot Academy. Leland previously taught at Marion before spending the last few years at a district in Tennessee. She is back in Marion as a district-wide science facilitator.
“We did not have anything like this at my last school,” she said. “As a new teacher, you spent Day 1 just kind of wandering around. You didn’t have the opportunity to figure stuff out before the job started.”
Leland said she found the instruction and speakers valuable, especially having the chance to meet some of her colleagues. But the best part, she said, was the bus tour.
“The most valuable thing was the opportunity to see where students are coming from,” Leland said. “I also liked the small group sessions, and the chance to get tips about how to run your classroom and classroom management. The whole thing was very valuable. It was great opportunity to get to know some of the faces we will be seeing across our campus, and across the district.”
One of the rookie teachers attending the Patriot Academy was Rebecca Norden. An alumna of Marion High School, Norden graduated last May from Arkansas Tech University. She will be teaching first grade at Marion Math, Science, & Technology Magnet.
For a brand new teacher like Norden, the event was a great chance to connect with other teachers who are joining the district.
“It was a lot more personal than I expected,” she said. “I liked the sense of community. We had time to connect with other people who will be working in our building. I appreciated the time spent on the value of honing relationships, and about you have to love students before you can educate them.”
This was the second year Marion has hosted its Patriot Academy. According to Carissa Lacy, the district’s director of student services, the district started the event to ensure that new teachers have all the resources they need to be successful.
"We know the first year of teaching has its own set of challenges, whether you are a first-year teacher, or just someone who is new to the district,” Lacy said. “The Patriot Academy is a way to overcome that. We use this event as a way to break the ice, to help introduce our new teachers to the Patriot culture, and to build a cohort of staff members who can support one another through the challenges of the first year.”
Monday’s session was actually just the first of a two-day program. The Patriot Academy will reconvene on Tuesday, September 28. Regular professional development for all staff starts Monday (July 19).
Lacy said one of her favorite parts of Monday’s session was the keynote speaker, Liz Huntley, who spoke to the teachers via Zoom. An attorney from Alabama, Huntley is a child advocate, published author, and a popular motivational speaker.
“I loved Ms. Huntley’s presentation,” Lacy said. “She had a great message for our teachers about how important it is for them to build connections with their students. She says, ‘It’s the story behind the eyes,’ and that’s so true. She was relatable and inspiring, and I’m so glad we were able to give our new teachers the opportunity hear her.”