LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Julie Brown

Position: Middle and High School Reading Specialist
School: Woodstock Union High School & Middle School
School District: Windsor Central Supervisory Union
City, State: Woodstock, VT

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Music that Describes Julie

Julie Brown was nominated by her superintendent, Sherry Sousa.

"When reading the descriptor for this recognition, the first educator who came to my mind is Reading Specialist Julie Brown," explains Sousa. "Julie has created a reading intervention program at Woodstock Union Middle and High Schools (WUMSHS) in Woodstock, Vermont, that ensures students will be proficient in reading before graduation. What changes lives more than guaranteeing literacy?"

Mrs. Brown was hired at WUMSHS in 2014 to address the needs of entering seventh-grade students who were reading below the first-grade level. She didn't have public school teaching experience, but she had a passion for secondary literacy rooted in her son's struggles with learning to read. Students like her son were graduating from high school without being proficient in reading, though many attempts were made to address the issue.

Mrs. Brown created a space where students were safe, valued, and welcome. In her classroom, students could share their most shameful secret; they couldn't read. Often, Mrs. Brown would receive her students' anger and pain from experiencing failure at the hands of well-meaning teachers. Rather than backing away from those powerful emotions, she embraced them physically and metaphorically.  

Most importantly, Mrs. Brown didn't have any secret weapons in her arsenal that would ensure student success. Instead, she walked students through the elemental steps of breaking the reading code, allowed students to understand why reading was a challenge and how they could overcome that difficulty, and engaged her students in meaningful, age-appropriate learning. As they learned vowels' sounds, they also interviewed local veterans about their military experiences, wrote poetry with senior citizens, and explored the outdoor world at a local National Park.

While data isn't everything, seeing how Mrs. Brown's efforts and program made a statistical difference is impressive. Of the 73 students she's worked with since 2014, 90% are now proficient in reading. Fifty-three students were initially on Individual Education Plans, and 21 students "graduated" from needing specialized services. However, numbers can't explain the students' pride and joy in having cracked the code. Instead, it is seen at graduation when they hug their "favorite" teacher, when they return to her classroom as juniors and seniors to share their lessons learned with the new middle school cohort, and when they now read aloud to a younger sibling.  

Beyond her classroom, Mrs. Brown, at barely five feet tall, has become a force in her district to demand literacy equity for all students. It is due to a course she offered to her elementary and secondary colleagues that inspired them to revise their reading teaching practices and resources to focus on evidence-based approaches. For the next two years, all faculty will receive training in literacy education, and all are excited to do so.  

Finally, Mrs. Brown is a lifelong learner. She applied for and was accepted to the Doctorate program at Mount St. Joseph in Reading Science. She will also present at the Reading Leagues 6th Annual National Conference. Her impact will be felt well beyond the brick walls of WUHS/MS.

"I am proud to be Mrs. Brown's Superintendent, colleague, and friend. Every time I'm in her presence, I feel smarter and more committed to the work of literacy for all," said Sousa. 

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