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Waterford Announces Educator Prize Recipients

Thursday, December 7, 2017
2017 Waterford Educator Prize Recipients
2017 Waterford Educator Prize Recipients (L to R): Aaron Stockham, Michlle Curtis, and Ryan Judd

The Waterford Educator Prize was created in 1995 to honor members of the Faculty for the quality of their teaching and for their professional contributions to their colleagues and the School. Faculty and Staff submit nominations in the Fall, and the winners are announced in December. Each receives a monetary gift toward the pursuit of an interest or a dream that is important to that individual. The winners are asked to speak at the April All Schools Faculty Meeting, reflecting on their teaching — how they came to it, how they keep it vital, and insights they have acquired along the way.

Congratulations to the 2017 winners, named below. We have included for each a snippet from the tribute by Head of School Andrew Menke.

Ryan Judd

Ryan is a Waterford Original because he has so thoroughly absorbed the Waterford ethos as a student and faculty member, and has lived it with such intense imaginative power, that it feels like Ryan created that ethos... like he is the true original.

A Member of the Class of 2002, Ryan first returned to work at Waterford some three years after his graduation, serving on the maintenance crew, and working as an assistant coach. Since then, his roles at Waterford have steadily expanded over a dozen years, encompassing first teaching and more coaching -- always there is coaching! -- then deaning in both the Upper and Middle Schools, and finally chairing the Physical Education Department. To each of his assignments, Ryan brings unusual passion, energy, and sincerity. He views every task, no matter how large or small, as an opportunity to learn, and ultimately to teach.

Under Ryan’s mentorship, the student-athletes become better human beings. With Ryan as a colleague, we are becoming better human beings as well, and we are grateful.

Ryan is always teaching, always coaching, always mentoring. Whether speaking to the whole student body in assemblies, counseling just a single student who has found a path to the dean’s office, teaching wellness principles to Class VII and weight training principles to Upper Schoolers, or coaxing teamwork and precision out of adolescent athletes on the court or field, Ryan is modeling a better way of being. He sees kids as the individuals they are. He recognizes their potential, and makes them believe in themselves. He exhorts, he demonstrates, he explains, he nudges. But mostly he influences by example -- and kids respond.

Ryan’s example is a testament to the power of the “whole child” philosophy at the heart of Waterford and the liberal arts tradition. The mind is important, and Ryan pushes students to do and be their best in the classroom, but equally important is the body and the soul, and Ryan excels at getting students to see themselves as integrated wholes. Under his mentorship, students learn to become fully capable of thinking, fighting, or imagining their way through problems, as the occasion may require. Like the great Plato, Ryan seems to see athletics as a model for all learning, in the way it fuses discipline and play. He lives the fusion in his approach to his work at Waterford -- showing us all everyday how best to balance rigor with joy. The teams he coaches display an intense drive toward excellence, but they also are alive with camaraderie and a sense of fun -- ultimately with a sense of purpose beyond the game. Under Ryan’s mentorship, the student-athletes become better human beings. With Ryan as a colleague, we are becoming better human beings as well, and we are grateful.

Michelle Curtis

When Michelle first arrived at Waterford back in 1996, she brought with her a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Utah in Psychology and English, substantial coursework in Latin, experience as a licensed social worker, and a deep passion for teaching and learning. Working initially part-time, Michelle taught Latin for four years in the Lower and Middle Schools. Then, after taking a few years away, she returned to Waterford in 2004, and showed impressive versatility in executing a range of roles essential to the Waterford mission -- assistant to the Upper School Dean, Class VII history teacher, substitute Middle and Upper School Counselor, study hall coordinator, author of customized curricula for struggling students across all divisions, and favored tutor to many students in multiple disciplines. Finally, in 2006, Michelle took on her current role as a Class V Homeroom Teacher, and has been a Lead Teacher for the past four years.

Through her long and varied experience at Waterford, Michelle has always been a primary locus of fun -- both for students and colleagues. Bold and brash, she speaks up in the faculty room and the administrative offices, and she jumps in on the student athletic fields. She has scars and injury stories from each arena to prove it. Always filled with good humor and goodwill, Michelle builds relationships that last. Colleagues know she will not only help them think through curricular or teaching challenges, but will bring them a meal when they are sick, Her students -- and their parents -- adore her, and seek her out for years after their time with her in Class V has ended. They see in her a genuine friend and mentor, a confidante, a source of comfort in times of need.

Students rise to these challenges initially because they love Mrs. Curtis, and want to please, but with Mrs. Curtis’s guidance they move beyond loving her to loving the work and the knowledge as well -- and they come back to thank her. We thank her as well, and feel lucky to have her as a colleague.

A born teacher, with rare interpersonal skills, Michelle is also a student of her craft. She thinks deeply about curriculum, and takes pride in designing programs across the disciplines that motivate kids to improve. She has spearheaded the development of advanced curriculum in writing, English, and mathematics, and she is always developing character education strategies within her classroom. Michelle meets students where they are, embracing the strugglers and the gifted equally as her own. She sees each student as a unique challenge, and she works tirelessly to develop individualized approaches for maximizing learning and growth. She has the gifted teacher’s knack for getting kids to want to do more, want to go deeper -- to understand, to appreciate, and ultimately to love the work of learning. Students rise to these challenges initially because they love Mrs. Curtis, and want to please, but with Mrs. Curtis’s guidance they move beyond loving her to loving the work and the knowledge as well -- and they come back to thank her. We thank her as well, and feel lucky to have her as a colleague.

Aaron graduated from Waterford in 1997, and returned as a full-time history teacher in 2008, after first earning a BA in history and economics from Grinnell College, and an MA and ABD in history from Marquette University. He finished the PhD while working at Waterford in 2011, and assumed the well-deserved title of Dr. Stockham among his admiring students. He has continued to write and publish periodically in his area of particular expertise, the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In short, he is a man of extraordinary academic accomplishment, a scholarly example of the Waterford faculty ideal, a true teacher-practitioner, an expert in his field, who is nevertheless comfortable -- even excited -- teaching civics lessons to 7th graders.

Aaron Stockham

With every justification for being proud, Aaron is in fact wonderfully humble, and in being so, he is all the more inspiring for his students. His great gift as a teacher is to make young scholars see the clear and manageable steps required of excellence. Through organized presentations that model the skills of synthesis that good students of history must master, he breaks complexity into orderly chunks, making the study of history seem both compelling and accessible for every student. He pushes students, demanding that they wear the uniform and do their homework, but also signals through this exactness that he is there to support with kindness and encouragement.

Students love Dr. Stockham for the purest of reasons: He helps them to thrive as learners.

Aaron has honed his teaching over the past decade at Waterford. Instinctively self-critical, he is always eager to learn, and to become better. He has embraced the various technologies in the Waterford toolkit, becoming expert at using Canvas and Google Docs to organize his curricula, and to help student be and stay organized themselves. He has also pioneered the use of video-recorded lectures to help students master material outside the constraints of the 52-minute block. Students love Dr. Stockham for the purest of reasons: He helps them to thrive as learners.

We love Aaron for the same reasons. He helps us to thrive as teachers. For the past three years, he has directed the Middle and Upper School Professional Review process, bringing his organizational talents to bear on a relatively new program, and making it better. In addition, over the past 18 or so months, Aaron has guided us through the NWAIS re-accreditation self study and visiting team review. Aaron shoulders a workload that would make many buckle, and he does it willingly, with a sense of opportunity and adventure. Despite everything on his plate, Aaron still finds time to organize faculty excursions to the hockey arena around Thanksgiving, and the annual softball game in the spring. We are deeply grateful for all that he does and continues to do.