HONORED TEACHER WILL BRING PILGRIMS TO LIFE IN THE FALL

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DRACUT — Rebecca Duda always thought she would become a teacher. It just took her a while.

For 10 years, the 32-year-old Duda worked at Stop & Shop, where she was a department manager. Unhappy in the food store business, she decided to go back to school.

Now about to begin her third year teaching eighth-grade history at the Lakeview Junior High School, Duda routinely goes above and beyond what is expected of her in an attempt to get the most out of her students.

“She’s certainly one of the most innovative teachers at the school,” said her principal, Theresa Rogers.

Duda’s students have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming school year. This summer, she created a new unit plan on the evolution of the colonial economy at a monthlong academic institute she attended at Salem State College.

The institute, which was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, was designed so that every teacher came away with a lesson they can now use in the classroom.

Duda’s 10-day plan focuses on the reasons the Pilgrims came to America, as well as how they set up their communities upon arriving.

She hopes to bring the material to life by having her students deduct conclusions from primary historical documents. Through analyzing one man’s probate record, for instance, Duda’s students will be able to conclude that he was very wealthy.

“It’s going to enhance what we already study in class,” said Duda. “It’s much more intense, hands on.”

Duda is honored she was chosen to attend the prestigious institute. Only 25 teachers from across the country were accepted. Hailing from Essex, she was the local of the group. Some traveled from as far as Arkansas, Texas and Washington.

On the weekends, Duda played tour guide, taking the other teachers to points of interest in the area such as Concord and Lexington, Gloucester and Rockport.

“It was great to meet teachers from all over the country,” said Duda. “It’s interesting to hear about the differences. One teacher who was from Houston had a lot of students who had been relocated after Hurricane Katrina.”

During the week, Duda and the other teachers spent eight hours a day in class. The lectures were taught by professors from Salem State College, the University of New Hampshire and the University of Connecticut. On some days, they took field trips.

“We went to the Peabody Essex museum,” Duda remembers fondly. “And their curator of textiles brought out colonial clothing that’s not normally on display.”

The teachers were given one day of the week to do research for their lesson plans after a morning class. At the end of the institute, each teacher had to present their plan to the group. Since the teachers all teach different subjects and grade levels, the presentations varied drastically from one another.

“A literature teacher focused on women in the colonies, and she was going to have the kids create a journal in the character of a woman from colonial times,” said Duda. “A science teacher from New Jersey was going to have her kids research colonial medicine.”

Getting accepted to the institute was not Duda’s first honor since becoming a teacher. In May she won the William Spratt Award for Teaching Excellence from the Massachusetts Council for Social Studies.

She also routinely brings guest speakers into the classroom. Recently she arranged for a Holocaust survivor to come in and speak to the entire eighth grade.

Duda is excited to get back to the classroom in September, and she couldn’t be happier about her decision to switch careers.

“I love it,” said Duda. “Everyone thinks that eighth grade is the toughest grade to teach. I don’t because it’s all I’ve done, but it’s wonderful.”

Have a story idea? Contact Chris Camire at ccamire@thevalleydispatch.com.