Wayne Bell honored by Humanities Council

MONTPELIER - The Vermont Humanities Council has named Wayne Bell, a teacher at Mount Anthony Union Middle School in Bennington, as its 2013 humanities educator of the year. The eleventh recipient of the Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award and the first middle school teacher to be honored, Bell will be presented the award on November 16 at VHC's fall conference, "Music and the Human Experience," at the University of Vermont's Dudley H. Davis Center.

VHC Board Chair James Wilbur will present the award at 8:30 a.m. in the Grand Maple Ballroom, along with a $1,000 check to Bell.

"The Vermont Humanities Council is pleased to honor a Vermont teacher in one of the humanities disciplines who challenges and inspires their students, who opens up for them the world of ideas, and who encourages in them the joy of learning," said VHC Executive Director Peter Gilbert. "The influence of such teachers on their students is immeasurable, and it never ends. In honoring one such teacher, we pay tribute to all the fine teachers in the profession in the Green Mountain State and we honor the important work they do." An English teacher at Mount Anthony Union, Bell has earned acclaim for his extraordinary dedication to the lives of his students both within and outside the classroom. Colleagues cite his professionalism, humor, compassion, and innovative teaching methods as reasons his presence at the school is so highly respected.

"In all my years as a parent and as a member of the school board, I have never before encountered a teacher with the passion, work ethic, and raw ability of Mr. Bell," said Kevin Bisaccio, a former board member of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union. "His deep commitment to the children is evident by the extraordinary bond he develops during these emotional years in a student's life." Bisaccio noted also how Bell's easygoing nature and strong leadership abilities have made him a leader among fellow teachers.

John Cossa, a fellow teacher of Bell's at Mount Anthony for over a decade, said "A teacher that has his students believing in themselves, really believing, is a true gift. . . . [Mr. Bell] truly embodies the highest commitment to service, growth, excellence, intellectual curiosity, and the value of personal creative expression." Cossa mentioned Bell's innovative multi-media teaching methods, his enthusiasm, his deep knowledge of his subject matter, and his "honest humanity" as keys to how Bell connects with students. Bell's influence is felt keenly outside classes as well. He is a team leader for Waterwheel, an after-school academic assistance program for individual student needs, and has taught several years of Summer School English to help students progress with critical skills. For nearly a decade, his weekly Writers Club hosted not only his middle school students, but also high-school-age former students who returned for Bell's inspiration and encouragement. His students have participated in poetry slams, performed public readings of VHC's Vermont Reads books, and taken part in an annual Poet's Cafe along with parents, faculty, and administrators.

Bell produces a weekly School Wellness Letter that lists and reports on school events and student achievements. He also coordinates the school's Caring Teachers Community Fund, which provides outreach to school community members who are celebrating or in need of condolence. These activities join a long list of Bell's service to various committees, clubs, leadership teams, and board and volunteer groups extending into the greater community.

Perhaps the highest praise offered by Bell's students, friends, and colleagues is for Bell's capacity to personally invest in others, offering sensitivity and compassion when it is most needed. "Wayne is the one to attend every funeral, visit every hospital, attend every court hearing, and be at the sporting event when no parent is present," said Kevin Bisaccio.

That sentiment is echoed by Jeremiah Evarts, a friend who witnessed Bell go out of his way to support students or colleagues enduring personal crises outside of school. "[Wayne] is the go-to guy. Students, parents, and teachers alike all rely on his steady and insightful guidance. In middle school, a large part of the educational experience is learning life skills.

In this, there is no finer teacher [than Wayne]," Evarts said.

VHC created the Swenson award in 2003 to recognize a Vermont educator on an annual basis and to honor Victor R. Swenson, the Council's first executive director. The award is given to a Vermont educator in grades 6 through 12 who exemplifies excellence in the teaching of the humanities.

For more information about the award, contact the Vermont Humanities Council at info@vermonthumanities.org.


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