Newark, NJ—Eric Diamon, an Uncommon Schools English teacher at North Star Academy Vailsburg Middle School, is a winner of the Teach for America Award for Excellence in Teaching, which recognizes alumni who are “exemplary classroom teachers for students growing up in low-income communities.”
Mr. Diamon, a Teach For America (TFA) alumnus from the 2004 New York City corps, won the award for his tenacious focus on closing the achievement gap in English language arts and his determination to ensure his students develop a true love of reading.
After the 2009-10 school year, 94% of Mr. Diamon’s 7th grade English students achieved proficiency or advanced proficiency on the state exam, the NJASK, far outpacing the state average. Yet a 94% proficiency rate just wasn’t good enough for him. “I didn’t feel like the kids loved reading,” Mr. Diamon said. “What you can do on a state test shouldn’t be the bar. You need to love reading in order to be truly successful,” he said.
Mr. Diamon, 31, launched a multipronged approach that involved developing a system of guided and independent reading that targeted students reading both below and above grade level and inspired all the students to read increasingly difficult texts. After a year, the results were irrefutable. Mr. Diamon’s 87 students read 2,660 books and over 60 million words. This year, the love and amount of reading have only increased.
These successful strategies for helping to create a love of reading have been adopted at other North Star schools, which are part of the larger Uncommon Schools network of high-performing urban charter schools. Uncommon manages 28 schools in New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts, seven of which comprise North Star Academy, launched in Newark in 1997.
Mr. Diamon’s approach has had impressive results at his school, suggesting wider implications for schools across the country that struggle with one of the biggest challenges of urban education—English Language Arts. Last year, only about 40% of entering 5th graders at North Star were on grade level in reading. By May of 2011, 69% were on grade level—representing a fast pace of achievement-gap closing.
“There are no holes in his system and nobody slips through,” said Serena Savarirayan, North Star’s Vailsburg Middle School principal, about the structure that Mr. Diamon created. She noted how Mr. Diamon’s practice is heavy on joy and ensuring that “100% of the kids are going to do this and are going to love it.”
Mr. Diamon credits the award to the teacher development systems at North Star, which allowed him to grow in both instruction and curriculum planning. Every year, hundreds of educators from around the country come to North Star to learn how workshops, lesson planning feedback, observation with feedback, and other teacher supports help make teachers stronger and more successful in their classrooms.
Out of thousands of TFA alumni, Mr. Diamon was one of 10 winners for the first annual award. “We are so excited about this group of educators and what their sustained impact on students’ lives can teach us and others in the field about what is possible in the classroom,” said Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America, in a press release.
“I am hopeful that this award and the opportunities that come with it will provide an additional platform for them to share their experiences and to learn from other educators across the country and the world,” she said. In addition to receiving a monetary prize, the winners will be invited to participate in an international trip focused on excellence and challenges in educational systems abroad.