Freedom school teachers learn in Baltimore


Michelle Shelite

After the conference ended Friday evening, Freedom teachers smile in a selfie at Baltimore's National Aquarium. Exhibits include several types of sharks, dolphins, whiptail rays, and a 500-pound sea turtle.

Though it is a small, Freedom schools received the big opportunity to attend the 2019 Making Schools Work Conference sponsored by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) in Baltimore MD. Freedom School teachers took this trip to Baltimore to better their professional skills on July 7 and returned on the 13th.

The State Education Department reached out to Principal Michelle Shelite through email offering the teachers a $10,000 grant to travel to the training. Shelite sent the department some required information and within two days she received confirmation that the grant had been awarded.

"I don't think that they have had this type of opportunity before," Shelite said. "Since I have joined Freedom Schools, the lack of professional development has been something I have focused on. The teachers were hungry for it."

Shelite and teachers Bryant Weber, Bretta Woodard, Sara Bowman and Katie Strehl attended the trip in hopes of learning new methods and information to better themselves as educators. According to, educators who attended were welcomed to myriad activities, such as engaging with experts and thought leaders and exploring literacy and math strategies that help students meet grade-level standards.

"One of the things I found very interesting was a session I attended that talked about an 'escape room' lesson, where students have to solve math problems to receive combination lock numbers to unlock a safe," Woodard said. "The lady that spoke explained that her students didn't know how to unlock a combination lock. So, I learned that you need to know what your students do know and what they don't know before starting a lesson."

Other training opportunities included identifying academic, social, emotional and behavioral supports for students who struggle with the effects of poverty or trauma, which is something that Weber and Shelite found quite enlightening.

"There were many great sessions to educate us as teachers on the traumas that students may be facing," Weber said. "There's some new information with students with trauma, like how to handle that and different skills you can use to help students through that trauma so that they can be successful."

The training included workshops that concentrated on inspiring students to make the connection between success in the classroom and their career and college goals, learning how to use data to make informed decisions, and building strong school teams, and they were able to network with educators from more than 30 states.

"I liked the fact that I got to meet a lot of new people and got a lot of new ideas so I can become a better teacher," Woodard said.

Sara Bowman teaches the fifth/sixth grade self-contained elementary class. She was excited for the opportunity to go and fine-tune her math strategies.

"It was an awesome opportunity to be part of and I am glad to have more resources for myself and the school," Bowman said.

There were many motivational speakers, such as Zackory Kirk who is the director of curriculum for the Atlanta Public Schools. As an instructional coach, he inspires teachers to adopt a continuous improvement mindset grounded in the responsibilities of teaching as a profession of service.

"I really enjoyed the motivational speakers because they practiced what they preached," Katie Strehl said. "Each speaker made sure his audience was engaged and participating. Kirk made sure we were up moving and meeting new people and sharing our ideas while at the same time soaking in the strategies and ideas that we as educators could and should take back to our classroom."

Technology has to play a part in today's classroom and there are ways to teach a learning objective with easy assessment using different programs.

"I was introduced to different apps found on educational websites such as Flipgrid,, and Google Classroom," Strehl said. "I can see the benefit of these tools and I hope to implement them in my room this year."

The Freedom School teachers hope to take what they learned and apply it to their work, to improve the lives and education of their students.

"I think the more we can learn, whether we can put it to use right now or later down the road, it will always be important to have that information," Shelite said.

"I know it opened my eyes to great and exciting teaching ideas going into education," Weber said. "To me, there were many great lessons and ideas that all of us as educators can and should use to improve the education of our students."

Michelle Shelite

Freedom teachers (from left) Sara Bowman, Katie Strehl, Bryant Weber and Bretta Woodard stand together at the conference hall.


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