COE Literacy Leader Awards

College of Education

SUMMARY: The 3rd Annual Literacy Leader Awards ceremony, held on February 29, 2024, honored two educators in Virginia for their significant contributions to literacy education. Tom Angleberger, author of The Origami Yoda series, delivered an inspiring talk on battling writer's block, followed by the presentation of awards to Liz Benbow and Summerlyn Thompson, recognizing their dedication to literacy and education.

The JMU College of Education Literacy Program 3rd Annual Literacy Leader Awards ceremony was held on February 29, 2024 in Memorial Hall. Established in 2021, the Literacy Leader Awards aim to honor educators in the Commonwealth of Virginia who have made significant contributions to literacy education. The awards include the Literacy Teacher of the Year, recognizing a P-12 literacy educator, and the JMU Literacy Award, presented to a graduate of JMU’s Literacy M. Ed. program.

lla1.pngTom Angleberger, author of The Origami Yoda series served as the featured speaker with his talk entitled “Battling the Blank Page.” Angleberger discussed his journey to becoming a writer, stressing that it takes a long time and a lot of work, and that not every book is a winner. Angleberger bravely shared some of his best-sellers as well as his not-so-best-sellers. He also described a few of his methods for getting started in writing.
One method he mentioned is putting together two unlike ideas and seeing where they take you. For example, “What if there was a toad who mowed lawns?” He then queried the audience to suggest separate ideas to be put together into a story; creating and illustrating “The Meerkat Who Ran After the Apple” in real time with audience participation. He also stressed the importance of a story having a beginning, a middle, and an end. In this case, the Meerkat tagged the apple and then it was the apple’s turn to be “it” in their game of tag.
Another way to battle the blank page according to Angleberger is to fold it; the paper, that is. He then walked the audience through the steps of creating their very own origami Yoda; which can embolden the creator with Jedi Powers. Audience members, especially the many who had read the series as children, were excited to fold along.

lla2.pngFollowing Angleberger’s rousing presentation, JMU Literacy faculty member Sara Lupo introduced the awards portion of the evening. The Literacy Teacher of the Year was presented to Liz Benbow, Reading Specialist at Stuarts Draft Elementary School, in recognition of her dedication to improving students' reading abilities and promoting collaborative literacy engagement within the school community. Ms. Benbow chronicled her journey to teaching and encouraged attendees to attend professional development opportunities whenever possible. The letter recommending her for this award praised her, saying, “She is an excellent example of being passionate about education!”

lla3.pngThe second award, the JMU Literacy Award was bestowed on Summerlyn Thompson, principal of Walker Upper Elementary School in Charlottesville. Ms. Thompson was not available to receive her award in person, but she sent a personal video to be shared with the audience. In it, she stressed the importance of making connections and building relationships with students. Her nomination letter states, “When Summer leads, people want to listen and follow. She leads by example and works hard with great dedication. She does it all for her students.”
Overall, the 3rd Annual Literacy Leader Awards ceremony was a fun night, celebrating the achievements and contributions of educators who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to promoting literacy and inspiring students to become lifelong learners.

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by Rabia Lieber

Published: Thursday, March 7, 2024

Last Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2024

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