By Ball Brothers Foundation—
MUNCIE, IN —Every child can learn. That is one of Kira Zick’s most strongly held beliefs. She knows there’s a way to reach every student, and in her third and fourth grade Spanish/English dual language classroom, she challenges herself to figure out how. She believes a positive environment is the best foundation for learning.
“It is essential that the learning environment is safe, positive, encouraging, well-managed, as well as diverse. Every student deserves to be treated fairly and to be given equal opportunities,” Zick said. “Having an open mind and ability to adapt are essential qualities for a successful teacher; learning is a continual, lifelong process.”
Zick’s commitment to engaging her students with authentic experiences that will prepare them to be global learners and leaders is only one of the many reasons Ball Brothers Foundation chose Zick as the recipient for the 2023 Excellence in Teaching Award. The award—which includes grant money for the winner’s district ($5000), school ($5000), classroom ($5000), and professional development ($2500)—is given annually to one Delaware County teacher who inspires students and colleagues alike.
“When choosing the recipient of this award, we place high value on teachers who display integrity and a responsibility to their students and community,” said Jud Fisher, president and CEO of Ball Brothers Foundation. “We are also seeking to honor teachers who are preparing students with 21st century skills. There is no doubt that Kira Zick exemplifies these qualities inside and outside of her classroom.”
Zick teaches in a dual language classroom, which means her students learn their usual subjects like math and science in the Spanish language. While a number of her students are native Spanish speakers, the vast majority have been learning Spanish since they were accepted to Muncie Community School’s lauded dual language program as kindergartners. Students are immersed in the Spanish language from their first day of school. By third and fourth grade, the students have proficiency in the Spanish language, and spend approximately 50% of their day being taught in Spanish.
With the funds granted for professional development, Zick says she would be thrilled to attend the La Cosecha Dual Language Conference, which brings together educators, parents, researchers, and practitioners of dual language, or a conference held by the National Association for Bilingual Education which is a non-profit that works to advocate for bilingual and multilingual students.
“There are math and science curriculums with a Spanish version, but they aren’t necessarily created for students in a dual language program,” Zick said. “Being able to attend one of these national conferences would allow me to learn how to apply more best practices in my classroom, allow me to collaborate with other dual language educators and have more exposure to and be able to sharpen my own Spanish language communication skills outside of a classroom setting.”
In addition to Zick, Ball Brothers Foundation also recognized Rob Jones, a social studies and media teacher at Burris Laboratory School, and Heather Rogers, a German and Russian languages teacher at Indiana Academy, as finalists for the award.
Jones’ philosophy is similar to Zick’s, emphasizing that engaging students on a personal level is the best way to get them interested in learning. His commitment to teaching students how to engage with content and learn skills themselves allows his students to become critical thinkers who can thrive well into the future. During his tenure at Burris Laboratory School, Jones has built a popular emerging media and broadcasting program at the school. Under Jones’ leadership, Burris students now live-stream athletic events and music performances, manage the school’s website, produce an alumni podcast, and are working to create virtual reality tours of the school to share with alumni.
“The most important thing to understand is that what lies ahead in the student’s life is not set,” Jones said. “My teaching comes from a place of giving opportunities for students to engage in real-world issues and learning skills that will benefit them for their unseen future.”
Heather Rogers also teaches her students to become community members of a wider global community. Not only does she teach the fundamentals of the Russian and German languages in her role as a high school teacher at the Indiana Academy, but she also emphasizes the importance of what the languages mean to those who speak it.
“I show students different technological tools to communicate with their international peers. This makes communication more immediate, authentic, and conversational than in the days of traditional pen pals,” Rogers said. “Students should gain a curiosity about the world around them and want to find out more.”
As finalists, Jones and Rogers each received a grant of $1,000 to be used in their classrooms and $500 for professional development.
This year’s award finalists and winner will be honored at a reception on May 23rd. Indiana Secretary of Education, Dr. Katie Jenner, will be the special guest speaker at the reception.
To learn more about Ball Brothers Foundation’s Excellence in Teaching Award, including eligibility requirements and previous years’ winners, visit ballfdn.org/excellence-in-teaching-award.
About Ball Brothers Foundation
Ball Brothers Foundation is one of the state’s oldest and largest family foundations. In 2022, the foundation paid out $10 million in grants to support arts and culture, education, the environment, health, human services, and public affairs. The Muncie-based private foundation gives priority to projects and programs that improve the quality of life in the foundation’s home city, county, and state.