“We’ve got this!” That’s what students hear from science teacher Rachel O’Kelley when they enter her classroom at John A. Holmes High School in Edenton, North Carolina. O’Kelley focuses on improving learning for every student, even those whose past performance might keep them out of rigorous classes like hers at other schools. O’Kelley differentiates her instructional practices and activities in every lesson, using essential questions and activating strategies to engage her pupils. Students work in small collaborative groups for technology-based activities, create graphic organizers to show what they have learned, and maintain vocabulary notebooks to cement their understanding of scientific terminology. O’Kelley uses friendly competition to motivate her classes, where students build catapults and play a “dating game” to figure out which atoms form stable bonds. Students know O’Kelley cares about them and thrive in her culture of high expectations: On EVAAS (Education Value-Added Assessment System), O’Kelley’s students continually exceed expected growth.
O’Kelley is a leader in both her building and district. She has served on the school improvement, learning-focused framework implementation, and behavior intervention and support teams. O’Kelley chairs the science department, is the school’s chemical management hygiene officer, chaired the graduation committee, helps new colleagues as a lateral entry science buddy teacher and meets with the district superintendent monthly to address educator concerns as representative to the teacher advisory council. A Princeton ACT trained instructor, O’Kelley regularly presents at the regional Beginning Teacher Summit, leaving her fellow teachers motivated and with resources in hand to use in their classrooms.
O’Kelley is committed to helping high school students become the best citizens they can be. She founded and leads community service projects through the LEO Club, affiliated with the Lions Club International. O’Kelley often attends athletic and academic events to cheer on her students. She involves families in her classroom and uses technology to keep parents informed of assignments, tests and expectations. Always looking for ways to improve her classroom, O’Kelley sold homemade pound cakes and cookies this summer to raise funds for yoga balls, lab gloves and colored printer paper.
O’Kelley earned B.S. degrees in science education and biology and a B.A. in chemistry in 2013 from East Carolina University.
Press release: Lofty Science Success Earns a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Teacher Rachel O'Kelley
"The [Milken Educator] Award has had a lasting impact on [my students]. They realize that hard work and doing the right thing, even..." (read more)