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Bozeman teacher selected as 2009 Montana Teacher of the Year


Sally Broughton,
2009 Montana Teacher
of the Year


Imagine an 11-year-old student testifying in front of the county commission while cameras roll and the audience listens.

Then imagine the commission voting to construct a safe path to school at the youngster’s request.

“Who can measure the empowerment a student feels when he or she has made permanent changes in the community?” asks teacher Sally Broughton.

“In order for our democracy to work, we have to have engaged and informed citizens. That is my goal, my passion, and my mission as a teacher.”

Broughton, who teaches grades 6-8 social studies and language arts at Monforton School, a small rural school near Bozeman, has earned numerous awards for her innovative teaching and her leadership in civics education.

This September, she won the highest honor a Montana teacher can receive when she was named Montana Teacher of the Year for 2009.

The Montana Teacher of the Year program annually honors a teacher who exemplifies the best in the teaching profession. The program is sponsored and administered by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation.

An interview committee composed of the 2008 Montana Teacher of the Year, Steve Gardiner; other educators; a parent; and a high school student chose Broughton as Montana Teacher of the Year from among three finalists.

Broughton likes to quote Margaret Mead, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

Through Broughton’s innovative Project Citizen curriculum, her students have changed their local world in many positive ways.

At the start of every school year, Broughton asks her students to think about community problems that need to be solved. She helps them whittle the lists down to a single issue. Then the work begins. Students gather information, examine solutions, develop an action plan, and present their plan to the appropriate decision-makers.

In 2000, for example, her students decided the community’s biggest problem was the lack of a safe path to school. The road they traveled had no shoulder. As a result, trucks, buses, cars, pedestrians, bicycles, and skateboards shared the space, creating a dangerous situation.

Through Project Citizen, the students counted traffic, surveyed vehicle drivers and students, developed alternatives, then decided on the best policy to fix the situation. They testified before local county commissioners, who passed a policy directing the road department to construct a path.

The students and community members raised funds for the project, and the students secured the donation of asphalt to cover the path.

“Along the way, they learn skills in math, public speaking, research, writing, interviewing, technology, working together, and art,” Broughton said. “This is authentic learning.”

The variety of her students’ accomplishments is impressive: a bike helmet policy, a community playground (which the students helped build), restrooms in the downtown area, early warning and safety measures at the nearby dam, a competitive track program, and mandatory community service as part of the k-8 curriculum.

“Each of these ideas was selected, researched, and presented by the students,” Broughton said.

“They learn how to take action on an issue that is bothering them – to participate, not just sit and complain. My role is that of facilitator.”

Most American students don’t get nearly enough of this kind of education, Broughton believes. She points to a 2006 national study that reports 75 percent of American students complete their k-12 education without sufficient knowledge of civics and democracy.

Broughton is spearheading an effort to correct this problem in Montana and nationally. She has served as facilitator of the Montana Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools and has trained over a thousand teachers from across the U.S. and many foreign countries.

“It gives me great pleasure to equip teachers with the skills and techniques needed to encourage students to become good citizens in their own communities and in the nation and the world,” she said. “However, I am most excited about being the director and developer of the Montana Institute on Civic Education that will be held in Billings in June 2009.” The institute will be free for Montana teachers.

Broughton also practices what she preaches by volunteering in many aspects of community life, including her church, the community mediation center, food bank, animal shelter, the Bozeman Symphony, and other projects.

Awards and honors: Among many other awards and honors, Broughton received the American Civic Education Teacher Award this year from the National Education Association, the Center for Civic Education, and the Center for Congress at Indiana University.

Her language arts students have had essays and poems published in national and regional publications.

In April 2008, the National Learn and Serve Corporation selected her class to receive the Spirit of Service Award in April 2008 for “Operation Save The Playground,” a service learning project aimed at bringing fitness and recreation to the community.

“Mrs. Broughton and these students were selected from over 1,000 Learn and Service programs in the U.S.,” said Monforton Superintendent Lynne Scalia. “Mrs. Broughton shows us all that being an active citizen is more than merely being vocal. It means understanding all sides of an issue, working for change at the policy level, creating solutions, and then garnering support for that change. This is real and powerful work.”

Finalists: Finalists in the 2009 Montana Teacher of the Year event include Karen Spencer, a high school chemistry teacher in Great Falls, and Frank LaLiberty, a science and agriculture mechanics teacher in Cascade.

As Montana Teacher of the Year, Sally Broughton will serve as a spokesperson and advocate for the teaching profession and represents the state in the 2009 National Teacher of the Year event. ###


Below: Karen Spencer & Frank LaLiberty, finalists