Westlake's Howell is 2010 Charles County Teacher of the Year

Mark Howell, social studies teacher at Westlake High School and Charles County Public Schools 2010 Teacher of the Year. (Submitted photo)
LA PLATA, Md. (May 17, 2010)—Mark Howell was born into a world of education. He was raised by parents who emphasized the importance of helping children succeed and accomplish great things in life. His father was a high school vice principal; his mother, a music teacher and church choir director. Howell spent time as a teenager organizing music for a youth hand bell choir, and teaching groups of five-year-olds how to swim at a local day camp. “I was always praised and encouraged for my ability to work effectively with younger children. Teaching seemed to come naturally to me,” Howell said.

Howell, a 30-year veteran educator and social studies teacher at Westlake High School, strives to provide his students with a rewarding and motivational education that connects them to a world rich with history. Students in his classroom can often be found comparing and analyzing maps, role playing prominent historical figures or talking with students in Russia by satellite and webcams.

He believes that students must “do” history – walk in other’s shoes – in order to broaden their knowledge of the world. Howell’s passion for history and his ability to challenge his students to gain a deep understanding of history are a few of the reasons why he was named the 2010 Charles County Public Schools Teacher of the Year.

Howell’s nomination was spearheaded by Westlake Principal Chrystal Benson, who said Howell is a true example of an inspiring educator who provides engaging lessons not only for his students, but also for staff. “During Howell’s formal observations, I must challenge myself to remain on task, as his lessons are so engaging that even the observer is anxious to get involved. He is mesmerizing. I often want to raise my hands and ask questions,” Benson said.

Howell teaches a range of social studies classes at Westlake, including local, state and national (LSN) government and U.S. History, as well as several Advanced Placement (AP) classes in European and U.S. history, government and politics, human geography and international relations. He also coaches a student team to compete in the “We The People” historical event, of which Westlake is one of eight Maryland schools to compete. Howell also recently coordinated the expansion of Westlake’s schoolwide History Day program, which led to a large increase in the number of students who competed at the county level, as well as at the state competition.

When it was announced that he was chosen to represent CCPS as the Teacher of the Year, Howell was elated, and humbled, at his selection. “Teachers out there are doing so much for their students. It is not really fair in a sense to pick just one person because teachers do fantastic things each day,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools James E. Richmond said Howell is truly deserving of this award because he embodies all of the qualities expected of a teacher, and his passion for teaching is evident in all that he does. “Howell is an excellent representative of a model teacher and for the school system. The connections he makes with his students are amazing. His lessons allow his students to visualize what they are learning and to encourage them to become actively engaged in issues dealing with government and politics. I believe he has what it takes to compete for the state and national teacher Teacher of the Year titles,” Richmond said.

Griffin Canfield, a 2009 Westlake graduate and one of Howell’s former students, agrees with Richmond in that Howell is well deserving of the Teacher of the Year title because he is an exceptional teacher who strives to instill his students with integrity, respect and compassion for learning. “He challenged me. He made me defend my ideas and taught me to present my arguments with respect for the points of view of others. He allowed me to take leadership while showing regard for others and treating colleagues with dignity and compassion. Those traits are what I will remember best about Mr. Howell. They are not just the hallmark of an exceptional teacher, but also a remarkable person,” Canfield wrote in a nomination letter.

Throughout his 30-year career, Howell has taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels, and has been instrumental in bringing the Civics Mosaic Russian partnership and Civic Voices instruction to students in Charles County. In 2003, CCPS launched a partnership with a school in Penza, Russia through the Civics Mosaic program, in which students learn about political systems and ideology through the use of comparative methods. Howell was chosen as one of two initial Mosaic Fellows and traveled to Russia to collaborate with teachers and teach with students.

Howell has maintained his connection with Penza, and uses videoconferencing capabilities in class so his students can participate in live conversations with Russian students to discuss the differences in history, political and educational systems and culture. “This project, which embeds the values and goals of Mr. Howell, seeks to encourage understanding of all races, creeds and cultures. It is nothing for our students to come to school at 6 a.m. to speak with students from Russia via satellite. Mr. Howell has made this opportunity available to them,” Benson said.

In his efforts to provide his students with a diverse understanding of history, Howell became involved with the Civic Voices program. The program provides teachers with the tools to work with their students to gather oral histories from civic activists. Once the histories are compiled, the content is uploaded to the Civic Voices Web site as part of an International Democracy Memory Bank, which features the work of students across eight countries.

Barbara Graves, regional coordinator of the Civics Mosaic program, said Howell’s work with the Civic Voices program provides his students with one-of-a-kind learning experiences. “He recently traveled to Poland to train Polish teachers to capture the stories of those ‘foot soldiers’ in the Solidarity Movement. This experience resonates in Howell’s classroom, as he trains students to look for an interview ‘heroes’ in their local community who have made a difference,” Graves wrote in a nomination letter.

Beyond the classroom, Howell is heavily involved in the musical activities of his church, where he serves as the volunteer music director. He works with children and adult choirs, hand-bell choirs and leads the praise band. He also helps teach Sunday School and enjoys traveling cross country with his wife, Judith, who is also a longtime CCPS educator, and his two children.

Howell earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and history, with a concentration in music from Westminster College in Pennsylvania. He has also participated in AP course training at La Salle University and Manhattan College, and holds an Advanced Professional Certificate (APC).

As Charles County’s Teacher of the Year, Howell will compete for the Maryland Teacher of the Year award, which will be announced in October. The state winner receives a cash award, a new car, and will be considered for the National Teacher of the Year honor.

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