Chicago’s Marva Collins: The Champion of Disadvantaged Students

220px-Collins-Marva-bookpublicity-IMGMany talented educators earn distinction as innovators in their field. Such is certainly the case for Marva Nettles Collins, a chalkboard champion in Chicago, Illinois.

Marva Deloise Nettles was born on August 31, 1936, in Monroeville, Alabama. She was raised in Atmore, Alabama, in a time when Jim Crow laws ruled the South. Black people were not permitted to use the public library, and her schools had few books and no indoor plumbing. Nevertheless, her parents helped Marva and her younger sister develop a strong desire for learning, achievement, and independence. “We were expected to be excellent,” Marva once recalled. “We didn’t have a choice.” Because of this drive, Marva earned a bachelor’s degree from Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia.

When she was a young woman, Marva met a young draftsman named Clarence Collins. The couple married and had three children: Eric, Patrick and Cynthia.

Marva began her career as an educator when she taught for two years in her native Alabama. Then she moved to Chicago where she taught in public schools for fourteen years. In 1975, to help the disadvantaged students in her neighborhood, Marva founded Westside Preparatory School in the second floor of her home located in a Chicago ghetto known as Garfield Park. There she successfully taught a classical education to underprivileged inner-city students, some of whom had been inaccurately labeled learning disabled by public schools.

In her classes, Marva employed the Socratic method, modified for her elementary students. To do this, she selected material with abstract content to develop her students’ reasoning abilities, knowing that the material would have different meanings to different students. Her instructional methods were proven to encourage participation, reduce discipline issues, and develop self-discipline. The program avoided worksheets and busy work, and encouraged students to develop critical thinking skills. Marva ran her preparatory school for more than thirty years, until it was closed for lack of funding.

In addition to her classroom successes, Marva has written a number of manuals, books, and motivational tracts describing her history and methods, which were widely publicized in the 1981 biographical TV movie The Marva Collins Story starring Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman. Marva has also earned distinction as a motivational speaker.

For her professional achievements, Marva has earned a number of awards and accolades. In 1981, she received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged. In 2004, she was honored with a National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush. Additionally, she has received honorary doctorates from Amherst, Dartmouth, and Notre Dame.

Chalkboard Champion Joseph Acaba: Educator and NASA Astronaut

220px-Joseph_Acaba_v2Many talented educators earn recognition for achievements outside of the classroom. Such is certainly the case of science and math teacher Joseph Michael Acaba, who is also a hydro-geologist and NASA educator astronaut. This chalkboard champion is the first individual of Puerto Rican descent to become a NASA astronaut.

Joe was born on May 17, 1967, in Inglewood, California, where his parents, Ralph and Elsie Acaba, had moved from Hatillo, Puerto Rico, during the 1960s. When he was an elementary student, Joe excelled in both science and math. He enjoyed reading, particularly science fiction stories. He also appreciated educational movies, and credits his interest in space to a film he watched in his boyhood depicting Neil Armstrong’s 1969 landing on the moon. During his senior year in high school, he became interested in scuba diving, and later he became a certified scuba diver through a job-training program at his school. This experience inspired him to further his academic education in the field of geology. In 1985, Joe graduated with honors from Esperanza High School in Anaheim, California.

Joe earned his bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1990, and his master’s degree in geology from the University of Arizona in 1992. Following his graduation, Joe enlisted as a reservist in the US Marine Corps, where he served his country for six years. During this time, Joe worked as a hydro-geologist in Los Angeles, where he was involved in the assessment and remediation of groundwater contaminants. He has also worked for the Caribbean Marine Research in the Bahamas and as a shoreline re-vegetation coordinator in Vero Beach, Florida.

Additionally, Joe spent two years in the Peace Corps, where he trained over 300 teachers in modern teaching methodologies in the Dominican Republic. “Once I did that, I knew that education was what I wanted to do,” Joe said. To fulfill this dream, after leaving the Peace Corps Joe taught one year of high school science and math at Melbourne High School in Melbourne, Florida, and four years of science and math at Dunnellon Middle School in Dunnellon, Florida. Then, in May 2004, the veteran educator was one of three classroom teachers selected by NASA to be a mission specialist. “The only job that could take me away from teaching is being an astronaut,” he explained. “Being an educator astronaut is the best of both worlds.”

In February 2006, Joe completed his astronaut candidate training, which included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in shuttle and International Space Station systems, physiological training, T-38 flight training, and water and wilderness survival training. Upon completion of his training, Joe was assigned to the Hardware Integration Team in the Space Station Branch, working technical issues with European Space Agency hardware.  He was also a member of the Space Shuttle Branch, supporting shuttle launch and landing preparations at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Joe’s first space mission was aboard STS-119, which flew from March 15 to March 28, 2009. The task for this mission was to deliver the final set of solar arrays to the International Space Station. Joe performed two space walks during this mission. His second space mission was Expedition 31/32, which was launched on May 15, 2012, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and returned on September 17, 2012.  As a member of the Expedition 31/32 crews, Joe spent 123 days aboard the International Space Station as a flight engineer. The intrepid educator has logged a total of 138 days in space during his two missions.

thJoe once said that, as an educator astronaut, he hoped to reach out to minority students. On March 18, 2008, he traveled to Puerto Rico, where he was honored by the island’s senate. During his visit, Joe met with school children at the capitol and at Science Park located in Bayamon. Science Park boasts a planetarium and several surplus NASA rockets among its exhibits. Joe made a second trip to Puerto Rico on June 1, 2009. On that trip he spent seven days on the island and came into contact with over 10,000 citizens, most of them school children.

Joe is active in several professional organizations. He is a member of the International Technology Education Association, the Florida Association of Science Teachers, and the Association of Space Explorers. During his career, Joe has earned many honors. He has been given the Ana G. Mendez University System Presidential Medal and a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico. In addition, Caras Magazine designated Joe as one of the most influential and exciting Puerto Ricans of 2012.

“As an educator,” this chalkboard champion once expounded, “I think the most important thing for me is to fulfill the goal of inspiring the next generation. Motivating kids to learn is as important as the subject matter.”

Time Flies!

My green blouse photoI can’t believe it has been more than a month since I last posted. I apologize for the absence. I have been working on my credential for Library Media Services, and have, quite simply, been swamped with homework. But it’s been fun homework, and I have learned so much. And I have met a wonderful group of dedicated teachers who are devoting themselves to learning how to move our students into the technology age. More about that later.

Meanwhile, I have received some queries about the new book, Chalkboard Heroes. The new publication date has been pushed to January. Stay turned for more about that, too. Thanks to everyone for their patience, especially my publisher!


Terry Marzell