Math teacher Maria Rodgers goes the extra mile to fully engage her students. Rodgers arrives at her classroom at Milkovich Middle School in Maple Heights, Ohio, dressed as a waitress when students are working on “order” of operations. Other accessories include a grass skirt, a wizard hat or a Queen Bee costume—always related to the lesson at hand. When her previous school, Barack Obama School in the same district, developed a “boot camp” to prepare students for a state assessment, Rodgers showed up in full Army fatigues and put 150 fourth- and fifth-graders through their paces for three hours with games, learning stations and modules.
Rodgers has taught every level from struggling learners to gifted. She pioneered the concept of individualized growth targets and differentiated goal-setting at Milkovich, making little “fat heads” for every student and pinning them on the wall with data charts; every building in the district has since followed her lead. In a largely-minority school with many transient families, Rodgers’ students are head of the class: 92% pass state math assessments, and they are making significant gains in value-added achievement growth. Always seeking to be ahead of the curve, Rodgers teaches an elementary summer intervention program to get to know future students and prepare her instruction.
Rodgers serves on building- and district-level committees for both instruction and day-to-day school operations. She has been involved in Milkovich’s continuous improvement efforts, leading changes in the school’s attendance policy and curriculum in both reading and math. Rodgers presents professional development, speaks at school board meetings, is developing performance-based assessments, and mentors new teachers. Using the “No Nonsense Nurturing” model Milkovich adopted more than a year ago, Rodgers coaches other teachers on how to create a positive learning climate. In partnership with The Schlechty Center, she has convened groups that include students, parents, teachers and community members to help Milkovich increase student engagement. Rodgers’ Pathfinders program celebrating diversity and African-American culture has become a community favorite. Each year, the district’s top 20 graduating seniors honor their most influential teachers; though most name high school educators, Rodgers is regularly included on the list.
Rodgers is a graduate of the University of Akron, earning a bachelor’s degree in 2005 and a master’s in 2011.