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Teaching a love of learning, equitably awarded in Amherst

  • Lauren Mattone, teaching her third grade class at Crocker Farm in Amherst. She recently received the Roger Wallace Excellence in Teaching Award. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lauren Mattone, works with Vafa Bahmanzad, 8, a student in her third grade class at Crocker Farm in Amherst. Mattone has recently received the Roger Wallace Excellence in Teaching Award. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lauren Mattone, teaching her third grade class at Crocker Farm in Amherst. She has recently received the Roger Wallace Excellence in Teaching Award. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lauren Mattone talks about her experience teaching and receiving the Roger Wallace Excellence in Teaching Award. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lauren Mattone works with Vafa Bahmanzad, 8, a student in her third-grade class at Crocker Farm in Amherst. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Thursday, November 01, 2018

AMHERST — On Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 23, Crocker Farm Elementary third grade teacher Lauren Mattone pointed to three photos on the board: a forest, a beach and a landscape. You just arrived here and this is what you see, she tells her students. “What do you think?” she asks the group.

As part of a social studies lesson on 16th century North America, Mattone guides the class though imagining what it would be like to arrive here 500 years ago. She stumps them when she asks how they will make a shelter, until one student suggests using a sharp rock as a tool to cut branches. Mattone gets out of her chair and gives the student a fist bump.

Mattone, who has been teaching in the district for 18 years, was recently awarded the 2018 Roger L. Wallace Excellence in Teaching Award. Criteria for the honor includes engaging teaching, instilling a passion for learning, building relationships with students and showing a commitment to social justice.

Creative lessons like the social studies one are a highlight for many of her students.

“She’s different from other teachers,” fourth-grader Elena Denno said, “because she turns things that aren’t that fun into a fun activity.” Denno was in Mattone’s class when she was in second grade, but she liked Mattone so much she sometimes comes back to help out in the classroom.

“She has this way of making each kid feel special in the classroom,” said Crocker Farm para-educator Jean Fay. “I know this because I see former students return year after year ... Mattone gives up some of her own lunch and they sit with her and read.”

Fay worked in Mattone’s classroom last year and nominated her for the award. It’s given out annually to a teacher who’s worked in one of the four elementary schools in Amherst and Pelham for at least three years. Though potential honorees are nominated, a vote from staff throughout the district determines the finalist. In honor of Mattone, the award’s committee is hosting a dinner in Valentine Hall at Amherst College on Nov. 4.

When it comes to social justice and equity, a major component of the award’s criteria, Mattone says she’s focused on serving all students.

Walk into her classroom, she said, you won’t see flashy social justice poster, rather, “You’re going to see me hopefully being able to meet kids needs.” That includes emotional and academic needs.

“I know every kid comes into my class needing something different,” she said. Making families feel included is crucial too, she said.

Mattone is also transparent with her students that she is married to a woman.

“I’ve been out with the kids for a long time. For some kids, it’s really important – for them and their families.”

It can mean a lot to students to see themselves and their families in their teacher, she said.

Mattone has taught kindergarten, first, second and third grade. But that wasn’t always her plan. She majored in English at Mount Holyoke College – where she now teaches in the graduate program — but it wasn’t until her junior year that she became interested in a career in teaching. She took a developmental psychology class, and recalled thinking: “I realized what I really wanted to do was teach.”

When she started working in the district in 2001 as a first grade teacher at Fort River Elementary, Roger Wallace — the award’s namesake — welcomed her.

“He would tease me like he was my little brother,” Mattone recalled. “It’s almost like he’s family.”

Once she said, he stole one of her shoes as a joke. Teaching can be a serious job, she said, and sometimes you need pranks like that. “If we don’t have some fun you may go home tired at the end of the day,” she said.

Wallace taught elementary school in the district for 39 years before retiring in 2012. Now, Mattone said she’s seen waves of students who tell her how much they love Wallace.

And many of Mattone’s students talked about how much they like her, too.

“She’s really kind and nice and I like her as my third grade teacher,” Lily Price said as she worked on a social studies activity.

While walking through the hallway with her class, one student learned the news that Mattone had won the recognition.

“That’s a great award for you!” the student shouted enthusiastically.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com