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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 5:33 pm | A Few Clouds 63º


Salute to Teachers: Peabody Charter School’s Megan Heffernan Shares Passion for Social Justice

Peabody Charter School first grade teacher Megan Heffernan is being honored as a Distinguished New Educator for A Salute to Teachers. Click to view larger
Peabody Charter School first grade teacher Megan Heffernan is being honored as a Distinguished New Educator for A Salute to Teachers.  (Fallon Heffernan photo)

Megan Heffernan wanted to be a teacher when she was a kid, even setting up her own classroom in her bedroom.

She explored other options, majoring in psychology before going to graduate school to get a master’s degree in education.

“I couldn’t deny it anymore, I was a teacher,” she said. “As soon as I stepped back into the classroom, I was home.”

Heffernan’s first year at Peabody Charter School was tough, with a challenging class of first-graders and moments of self-doubt.

She shared her hard moments with her students, and they reciprocated, and it ended up being a gift to speak honestly with them, she said.  

“It was really hard work, but in the end it was worth it, because I loved what I was doing,” she said.

Heffernan is now in her second year teaching first grade, and was selected as one of Santa Barbara County’s Distinguished New Educators for A Salute to Teachers.

Heffernan is passionate about social justice issues, cultural diversity and project learning, and tailors her lessons for her first-grade students. “You really should be teaching what you’re passionate about because it ends up being a wonderful experience for everyone,” she said.

“It’s never too young to start talking about social justice issues.”

She’s dedicated to anti-biased teachings, which means using teaching materials – which are mostly visual for her young class – that represent people from all backgrounds.  

“The resources that we’re using, my students see themselves, they feel represented by what we’re reading,” she said.

“Society has an obligation to right some wrongs we see in society and there’s no better place to do that than in a classroom, and there’s no better time than now.”

Heffernan uses heritage months as starting points for some lessons, and her project for women’s history month got the attention of the whole school.

It was because of this project that Heffernan was nominated for the Distinguished New Educator award by her mentor teacher Liz Long.

“This wouldn’t be possible without my mentor, Liz, who nominated me,” Heffernan said. “I feel she’s really the true hero of this whole thing. She’s probably the most amazing teacher I’ve ever met, she constantly had my back.”

Heffernan’s idea came from teachingtolerance.org, and it started with a picture book called You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer, about the women’s rights advocate who popularized bloomers.

Heffernan taught her own students about influential women from history – including Amelia Earhart, Amelia Bloomer, Jane Goodall and Malala Yousafzai – and had her students put superhero capes on all the girls bathroom signs – the “activism through art” part of her lesson.  

Heffernan shared her teaching materials and the story with other Peabody teachers, many who taught it to their own classes.

“Through her unit, she helped her class see women as contributing greatness to our society, her goal being to open their eyes to the accomplishments of women throughout the world and though out history,” Long wrote.

“I had kids I didn’t even know come up and ask about the superwoman capes on restroom signs,” Heffernan said. “They said, ‘thank you, I love being a superhero.’ And I was like, practically in tears, that’s so cool! I didn’t expect to get that kind of response.”

Long said many students and other teachers at Peabody Charter School thanked Heffernan for the lesson.

“She created an awareness in our school community that had never been presented,” Long said.

In the Salute to Teachers nomination papers, another teacher wrote: “We read the story of Amelia Bloomer this morning, watched the video, and had a great discussion. It was really cool to see the shock and outrage from both the boys and girls as they learned of past norms.

“It was also encouraging to hear how much information many of the girls already had about the issue. I wish I had a video of the reaction of my girls when, after watching the video, I announced that you all would be changing the signs on the bathrooms. They whooped and cheered and pumped their fists in the air. They all agreed they would rather be represented by superheroes with a cape!”

A Salute to Teachers is presented by Cox Communications and the Santa Barbara County Education Office and will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara. ​Click here for more information or to register for tickets to the free, black-tie optional event.

The event will also recognize nine Santa Barbara County elementary schools designated as California Gold Ribbon Schools this year: Ballard Elementary School, Cold Spring School District, College/Santa Ynez Elementary School, Hope School, Monte Vista School, Leonora Fillmore Elementary School, Manzanita Public Charter School, Franklin Elementary School and Alvin Elementary School.

The schools are recommended by county education offices and the schools then submit applications, said Steve Keithley, the SBCEO director of teacher programs and support. The California Department of Education chooses finalists and the County Education Office puts together a visitation team to validate each school’s “model program” they wrote about in the applications.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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