Rarely does a teacher instruct drastically different subjects, but this unusual blessing has been given to Tamara Dunham, who teaches science, as well as language arts, to 6th-grade students at Van Buren Middle School in Albuquerque, NM. Dunham is a woman of many skills, passions and projects. She cares so much for her students and the entire student body at Van Buren Middle school, where 99 percent of students qualify for federal free and reduced-lunch programs. Dunham finds exciting opportunities for her students in unexpected places. She collaborates with the University of New Mexico (UNM), and Kirtland Air Force Base, to teach students science lessons. Her science students are currently collecting field research for UNM’s Bosque Eco-system Monitoring Program, on an on-going basis. Dunham and her students also work with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, on the Student Ecology Restoration Project (SERP), studying water quality, and learning how to conduct ecology research.
She also coordinates interactive parent and student nights with Explora!, a museum of “interactive experiences in science, technology and art,” held at Van Buren each year. For her language arts students, she organizes cross age tutoring lessons. Her 6th-grade students teach reading strategies to beginning readers at a nearby elementary. For students struggling to keep their grades up, she created and facilitates school focus groups to learn why students are underachieving. Dunham is responsible for implementing the America's Choice Ramp-Up Advanced Literacy, a research-based program which takes students entering middle school two to three years behind, and uses an accelerated program of study to bring students to proficiency. Tamara also teaches ESL, with students who are native speakers of Spanish, Arabic, Kurundi, Vietnamese, etc.
Tamara’s students have won achievement medals and ribbons in both the district-sponsored annual poetry contests, and at Van Buren’s annual literacy fairs. Van Buren also implements Positive Behavior Support (PBS), and Dunham is the PBS Coach. This system supports student success by using a positive behavior model, with clear school- wide expectations. Dunham is also an APS Mentor Teacher, and an Educational Research & Dissemination (ER & D) trainer for the district & union, supporting beginning teachers in the district.