‘What he says is what he believes’
EDWARDS – With four minutes left in the game, seventh grader David Shearon still hadn’t earned any points Wednesday morning. The 12-year-old was getting desperate. “Who is the prophet of Islam?” his classmate asked. Bouncing in his seat, Dave tried to concentrate. If he gave the wrong answer, his opponents would be able to challenge the answer and take his points. “Mohammed,” he answered firmly.He’d gotten the answer right and earned his first point.”Woohoo,” he cheered.Around Shearon, 15 other Eagle County Charter Academy students were also playing the game meant to prepare them for their upcoming test on Middle Eastern geography and history. Shearon’s victory cry was lost to most in the din of the classroom. But teacher Jason Mills heard him and quickly walked over to high-five his student. “Yeah,” he cheered as palms collided midair.
Halfway through the late-morning geography review, the class switched gears to play another game – trasket ball. The game is an old favorite of Mills’ students. In Wednesday’s version, students competed to answer geography questions correctly to earn the chance to throw a homemade ball into a trash can. “This class is so much fun,” said 13-year-old Carson Shelton. “I love these games. It’s like with exercise, you don’t need to go to the gym to work out, you can do it by playing games. It’s the same thing with learning, you don’t have to take notes all the time, you can have fun.”Jeans and sandalsMills subscribes to this philosophy of melding academics with play, and it’s proved to be a winning combination. So successful that the social studies teacher was recently chosen the outstanding educator at Eagle County Charter Academy. Teachers, students and parents were invited to write letters of nomination for their favorite educators in Eagle County public schools. Those nominated were then evaluated by fellow teachers and awarded points for their strengths, including instructional excellence, relationships with students and parents and community involvement. The teacher with the most points at each school was recognized at the 13th annual Evening of Stars with an awards ceremony, dinner and dancing. Amid the high heels and three piece suits at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek, Jason Mills, 35, was casual in jeans and sandals. “I was happy just reading those (nomination) letters. They made my day, and the award was just the icing on the cake,” Mills said, laughing at himself for using the old cliché. “Usually, (the students) are grumbling under their breath after an exam, but it’s great to hear positive feedback.”But the teacher of five years is quick to point out he isn’t any more special than the 28 other teachers at the charter academy, 16 of which were also nominated for the award. Charter Academy principal Jay Cerney agreed all his teachers are exceptional, but said he admires Mills’ unique talents.
“He’s one of the fairest teachers we have, but he recognizes that fair isn’t always equal,” Cerney said. Teaching tricksMills’ students take the fairness for granted and focus on the fun they have in class, only half realizing they’re learning along the way. Seventh-grader Andreas Calabrese recalled when Mills had simulated life on the Gaza Strip without telling his students what he was up to. He started by sternly demanding identification as students walked into class.”He really taught us how it really was, and it was pretty funny because a few of us were pretty scared,” Calabrese said. Athena Janssen, 12, is eagerly anticipating an upcoming unit on Africa, when the students will be asked to dress up as ambassadors from difference African countries and discuss the continent’s most pressing issues.”You’re learning all sorts of subjects in social studies no matter who teaches you, but Mills makes it interesting,” Janssen said. “He takes something and puts it to a whole new level.”Fourteen-year-old Connor Bowman said Mills is even able to make the potentially dry legal process enticing in his civics class.
“He has a passion for what he teachers,” Bowman said. “You can tell what he says is what he believes.”======================Jason Mills’ acronym to teach by (Dawn may make a graphic out of this)ActiveSocialInvestigativeAdventuresome
UsefulSuccessfulAccountable======================Web extrasTo see Eagle Country Charter Academy teacher Jason Mills in action, go to http://www.vaildaily.com.======================Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado