Davis Drive Middle Teacher named National Character Education Middle School Teacher of the Year
June 18, 2003 – Moviemaking and quilting have helped Davis Drive Middle School social studies teacher Cindi Baker teach eighth-graders about the history of their community and civic responsibility. And Baker believes the projects helped to earn her recognition as the 2003 Middle School National Educator of the Year from the National Character Education Center.
Teacher Cindi Baker displays poster for the movie her students made about Cary.
“I think someone nominated me for the award who had heard about the movie. Its called Cary-osity,” said Baker. “I received a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation through the NC Civic Consortium to make a movie.” Funding for the project also came from the Friends of Page Walker Hotel and the Town of Cary.
Two years ago, Baker started off the school year with a large bulls-eye graph on the wall. She asked 120 students to mark on the graph where they were born. She was surprised to find only 13 percent had been born in Cary and nearly 80 percent had been born outside of North Carolina. Baker felt the students would become more involved citizens if they knew more about the area’s history and government.
An interest in civic education led her to join the Cary Heritage Museum Task Force at the Page Walker Hotel. When this citizen group talked about a video to introduce students and other citizens to the resources within the community, Baker knew just where to turn.
She wrote a grant to hire a professional filmmaker and began enlisting the help of the community to prepare her students. Experts on different topics of Cary history came into the classroom to talk with students. With training from the filmmaker, the students went into the community videotaping sites for the film. Baker enlisted the help of the students’ language arts teacher to turn their research into a script. Students worked together and with the help of the filmmaker, teachers and community volunteers made the movie.
The movie debuted in a Cary theatre before parents and leaders from the school system and community.
“This movie was really an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Baker. “What does it do for the kids? I think it opens their eyes in a way a textbook would not do. A camera has a lot more relevance to them than a textbook. It makes them excited. It makes them actively involved. It makes them extremely interested. They are proud to display their work and share it and know that what they will do will be used and displayed in the community.”
The movie closes with the story of a couple who own property just down the road from the school at the intersection of Davis Drive and High House Road. The couple is negotiating the sale through public condemnation of the property that has been in their family for generations. Baker pointed to the couple’s action as an example of responsibility, one of the eight Wake County Public School System character traits. Teachers weave into their lessons discussions about the traits, which include courage, good judgment, integrity, kindness, perseverance, respect and self-discipline.
Baker said character education taught this way has a direct impact on behavior in the classroom.
“Character education really helps the classroom atmosphere to make everyone feel welcome, to help everyone feel like they are important and valued,” said Baker. “People’s opinions need to be respected. People’s perspectives need to be listened to, and I think when you teach those character traits, you also make the classroom-learning atmosphere open to everyone.”
Character education training makes your classroom a place where students want to be, said Best.
“Realistically, you know these are the things that are life long,” said Baker. “No matter what job you take, the way you treat people is what it’s all about. That’s your basic understanding of the world that you are going to be in. You become educated so you can choose your career. No matter what career you take, these character traits will be important.”
In the past school year, students worked with the movie and history museum. They developed a lesson plan so that other teachers could use the movie in their classes. They worked with museum officials advising them on ways to make the museum more interesting for students.
Teacher Cindi Baker stands in front of character education quilt her students made.
Before producing the movie, Baker used quilting to teach her students about character education and social studies. While teaching at Martin Middle School, she created an elective class for students where students would research and write their own personal history and preserve it in fabric.
“We thought about shapes and colors and things that you would want to remember from your history,” said Baker. “We created these small individual quilts. I realized what an impact that made from just doing your own personal history and recording it.”
The project evolved. Baker asked students to record moments of state history in a quilting square and then helped the students link their squares into a giant quilt filled with their research.
“They loved being taught how to sew,” said Baker. “To do the sewing part – the fun part, we had to do the research. The end part is to record what you find. We talked about the Wright Brothers. What gave them the ability to fly? I told them you won’t find a paragraph describing the inner qualities of Orville. I like to put a little twist on things to make them think when they do their research so they can put their own feelings into it. That really worked.” One of the quilts was displayed at the North Carolina History Museum for a year. It now hangs on the wall at the entry of Davis Drive Middle School.
Baker’s recognition as National Character Education Middle School Teacher of the Year is the most recent in a series of recognitions she has received for her contributions to character education. She has also been recognized as:
* 1999 North Carolina Character Educator of the Year. She was the state middle school winner for lesson plan development based on the project “Piecing Character Traits Together from Our History Using Digital Imaging.” * Scriptwriter and on-screen presenter for the character education training video produced by and used by the North Carolina Character Education Partnership. * Character education presenter for Wake County Public School System to demonstrate how to incorporate character traits into curriculum objectives. * Presenter for the Kenan Ethics Program with Melanie Mitchell, assistant director.
“If students are challenged in creative ways to a higher level of expected achievement, they experience the joy of discovery,” said Baker. “I hope the experiences I provide in the study of history will help students make good choices in the classroom and in future life situations.”