Wednesday, November 20, 1996

Alumni profile: From hockey to education: Bell gives it all

Published in the Mountainview

Elizabeth Bell arrived in Middlebury in February 1989, and has neither stopped learning nor teaching since. A psychology major with a concentration in elementary education, she played lacrosse and ice hockey in Middlebury jerseys. She says the most important things about her experience at Middlebury were her friendships and connections to the town community.

Active in programs for children since arriving, she says she felt much more like a resident of the town of Middlebury than a student at the College. She speaks fondly of her sophomore and junior years, when she "could walk through town and know - at least by face - nearly everyone."

She became more involved in the Mountain Club in autumn 1992, and spread her contagious good cheer there as well.

Upon her graduation in February 1993, she journeyed west but soon returned, arriving in Middlebury that May to spend the summer working at the Mary Johnson Children's Center.

She spent autumn in her Teacher Education professional semester teaching at the Cornwall Elementary School. At the end of 1993 she moved to Washington, D.C. to teach kindergarten. The following summer she taught English as a Second Language to international students at the Fay School, a boarding school outside Boston.

In autumn 1994, Bell began a master's program at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. It was a one-year program which also certified her to teach at the elementary level. As part of her graduate program, she taught at a Northampton school.

Last autumn she began her first job with her own classroom, in Clarendon, Vt. This year she is teaching first grade at the Barstow School in Chittenden, and lives in Cornwall.

She has a "beautiful" forty minute community which provides the opportunity to rehearse her day's plans before arriving at school. Though she works long hours (leaving home at 6 am and returning sometimes after 7 pm), the drive also permits her to clear her mind before returning home to her housemate, friends, and her dog Fern.

Bell loves Vermont, though admitting that if she had not gone to Middlebury she would probably not be here now. She returned to Vermont after graduating from Smith because her own classroom was a positive step along her career path. She is now thinking of moving west, to Colorado or California, to be near family, with whom she is very close. She talks animatedly about seeing her brother and sister more often. At the same time, however, Bell expresses concern about the state of education, particularly in California. A recent California state mandate would force Bell to give up part of her teaching philosophy to be allowed to teach there. All is not lost, as she notes: another recent California initiative provides state funding to schools which attempt to lower their student-teacher ratios.

Bell is also concerned with the state of education closer to her present home. Last year, when Middlebury College's Teacher Education program was embroiled in controversy, Bell returned to campus to speak with the review committee. She is enthusiastic about the opportunities Middlebury's Teacher Education program has available. She appreciates that the Center for the Arts and Starr Library are specific College facilities which are open to both local teachers and alumni. "I'm glad we're welcome here," she says. She adds that because the College draws an intellectual community, the schools in the area are excellent; student teachers have access to experienced, capable teachers who love what they do. Bell cites her own experience as an example. During her student teaching at Cornwall, she was able to collaborate with other teachers, and even team-teach with other student teachers in the school. She finds Vermont's educational climate less inclined to have "knee-jerk" political reactions to educational programs, and notes Vermont's traditional position as a leader in educational innovation.

Bell's latest contribution to the community is an attempt to organize a regular pond hockey game, demonstrating her continuing desire to have more fun, learn, and teach. Of her demanding profession, she says, "It's all worth it when you see their smiling faces and talk to them and learn from them."