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Opening Minds, Doors And Futures: Keene State’s Legacy Educator Preparation Program

Story By:
Paul Miller | Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations
Keene State Today, Winter 2024 - Opening Minds, Doors and Futures, group
Pictured L to R: Hannah Trombley '11, Ian Kaplan '19, Amanda Miller '11, Susanna Gagnon '11, Hannah Bennett '25, Ritu Budakoti M'07.

Editor’s Note: Keene State’s legacy Educator Preparation Program has a 114-year history of readying skilled, passionate students to educate future generations in the classroom. Meet some of the graduates, many of whom have gone on to lead their classrooms locally and throughout New Hampshire creating a homegrown workforce pipeline. Also, meet current students who are pre-service teachers and hear more about their journeys, and learn how our education grads are uniquely connected, hired quickly and enjoy rewarding careers. Explore additional content at and on the College’s social media accounts.

The classroom of Ritu Budakoti M’07 at Keene Middle School buzzes with energy. The space is welcoming and dotted with vestiges of earlier projects, like model rockets and solar vehicles. Whiteboards are covered with schedules, charts, photos and homework assignments, while a poster inspired by the periodic table of elements displays “The Elements of a Successful Student.”

When we visited, students were working in small, enthusiastic teams, immersed in that day’s unit focus – Is Energy a System? – and the related learning objective: Observe energy transfer between three bouncing balls; explain why it is that energy cannot be created or destroyed; collect data on rebound heights; and evaluate the physical energy and kinetic energy of the bouncing balls.

The essential question is, “Can we create and/or destroy energy?”

On the middle panel of the main whiteboard at the head of the classroom was this side note, in large chalk print:

“Hola, Cardinals! Now that we have bounced into this awesome week, let’s not forget we all have great potential! - Mrs. Budakoti.”

In the days ahead, students in Mrs. Budakoti’s inviting classroom will fabricate a solar oven to test, extract DNA from strawberries, and enjoy an Inquiry Lab on roller coasters.

Welcome to 8th-grade science — Cluster E.

Keene State Today, Winter 2024 - Opening Minds, Doors and Futures, Ritu w/ students
Ritu Budakoti ‘07 works with Keene Middle School students on a science project.

Not surprisingly, Mrs. Budakoti, 43, who earned a Master of Education degree at Keene State, was a finalist for the New Hampshire Department of Education’s 2023 Teacher of the Year honor. She holds a bachelor and master of science degrees in botany from a university in India, where she is from originally.

In a career that spans 15 years, this mother of two children has taught on two continents and in public and private schools. And her education continues; Mrs. Budakoti is enrolled in Keene State’s Education Leadership Graduate Program.

Keene State has a long history of preparing and inspiring difference-making teachers and educational leaders.

Many, like Mrs. Budakoti, put their stamp on their classroom and their teaching style. In the eyes of their students, they see potential and imagine possibility. And almost universally, it is clear they have a passion for their chosen profession.

“I see my life’s purpose as helping to develop a community of lifelong learners because they have the potential to change the world for the better,” Mrs. Budakoti says. “As an educator, I live my purpose every day.”

Ian Kaplan ’19 teaches 6th-grade reading in the same building as Mrs. Budakoti. His classroom is equally as riveting, though not with rockets and microscopes. Instead, and not inconspicuously, his classroom is dressed in extra layers of books.

An energetic and engaging teacher who earned a bachelor’s in English literature and education, Kaplan also has extensive training in educational equity and inclusion, as well as certification in Safe Space (LGBTQ+ allyship and inclusion).

Keene State Today, Winter 2024 - Opening Minds, Doors and Futures, Ian Kaplan, KMS
Ian Kaplan ‘19 with Keene Middle School students

Keene State allowed him to be who he is, he said, and ultimately that allowed him to do what he now knows he was born to do, teach.

“Keene is the first place I’ve ever lived that has felt like home,” he said. “Chris Parsons, the professor in charge of English secondary education graduates, helped me to see myself as an educator. … I initially intended to work at Keene Middle School for a few years before leaving to explore the world; however, I quickly realized that Keene was my world — the place I wanted to help build and grow.”

In 2019, Kaplan and two other KSC alums, Tom Garceau ’19 and Devon Coffey ’19, were teaching English at Keene Middle School at the same time, one in 6th grade, one in 7th, and one in 8th. By the end of that year, the first for all three, they had started a Dungeons & Dragons after-school club that included more than 80 students.

Parsons remembers that the students had talked a lot about the fantasy role-playing game’s application to literacy skills in the English Methods classes he taught.

Garceau and Kaplan have gone on to win exceptional educator awards, from the supervisory unit for Keene Schools and the KSC Alumni Association, respectively. They are also now cooperating teachers for their alma mater and have hosted student teachers from Keene State who graduated in 2023 and who are also now teaching within 30 minutes of Keene. They are Lauren Simmons, at Monadnock Regional Middle High School in Swanzey Center, and Alyssa Hamilton, at ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough.

“All three very quickly became leaders in the school, not administrators, but the sorts of teachers who build other teachers up, start clubs, coach sports, run in-house professional developments, design new curriculum, and become the go-to adult for so many students,” Parsons said. “No matter the training, being an early-career teacher is hard, but our graduates do that hard work – and lead while doing it. Investing in teacher education programs means investing in folks who will become teacher leaders.”

A Long History In The Making

Keene State’s history of preparing future educators is well chronicled and dates back to 1909 when Keene Normal School opened with the mission of educating young women in the region. Those graduates were able to practice teaching in and around Keene. Having unpaid student-educators teach their children was a boon for taxpayers, whose financial ante toward public education diminished as a result.

The earliest Keene Normal School students studied education, pedagogy, and the liberal arts and sciences. A confluence of historical events, including a devastating hurricane, a world war, and the Great Depression, brought considerable and unforeseen pressures to bear on the institution. But the school persevered by leveraging an evolving and growing liberal arts program and reputation, and emerged for the better, as Keene Teachers College, in 1939.

Twenty-four years later, the school transitioned again, this time to Keene State College, which enrolled roughly 1,000 students at the time. Among the students who were part of the first class to attend and graduate from the college under its new – and current – name was Betsy Coll ’67, who used her degree to become a physical education teacher. Her extraordinary teaching career spanned 34 years.

“It’s been an awesome thing,” Associate Dean Tanya Sturtz, Director of Educator Preparation said, “all the successful outcomes, but also to see how our Educator Prep program has grown, pivoted with the times, and maintained the same high standards and pedagogical values it has always demanded.” In all its iterations, from 1909 until today, Keene State has launched thousands of education careers, here, in New Hampshire, across the country, and around the world. School leaders, principals, early education center directors, and in especially large numbers, teachers in public schools, private academies, charter schools and corporate childcare centers.

Keene State and its Educator Preparation program claim many points of distinction, not the least of which is the national accreditation it has maintained since 1954, and that 14 of its undergraduate programs offer paths to recommendation for endorsement for New Hampshire Licensure to the New Hampshire Department of Education. Only one-third of all teacher preparation programs in the country are nationally accredited.

While many Educator Preparation programs in New Hampshire are state-approved, only Keene State and the University of New Hampshire are approved by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

The College’s deep and enduring partnerships with schools in the region, depth and tenure of caring and available faculty, graduate program options, and strong job placement rates are other distinguishing qualities of the program.

Passion And Purpose-Driven Teachers

Hannah Trombly ’11 teaches 4th grade at Wheelock Elementary School in Keene. The classroom, she insists, is not a place for mediocrity, for teachers’ or students’ experience. Passion and purpose should lead, she said, and then the rest will follow.

Keene State Today, Winter 2024 - Opening Minds, Doors and Futures, Hannah Trombley
Hannah Trombley ‘11

“There are so many challenges so you have to love it; the classroom has to be your happy place. Teaching styles are varied. I take pride in getting to know my students, in being creative, and in making it comfortable for the students. I try to put on a show every day that lets them know just how cool our world is.” said Trombly.

Julie Henry ’08 teaches social studies at Nashua North High School. Like Trombly, Henry said getting to know students – their interests and learning abilities, for example – matters most and makes teaching easier. Fifteen years in, she said, relationship-building remains a job priority.

“Learning objectives and curriculum writing are things you learn in college, and necessary, but being flexible and adaptive you learn as you go. … I’ve also learned not to be afraid to be silly and to dress up for Spirit Week, or to laugh at your own mistakes even if you are in front of students. Teaching is a learning experience for students and adults every step of the way,” said Henry.

All of the teachers we spoke with for this series credit their Keene State experience for raising expectations and providing mentorship and field placement opportunities that make them highly employable.

Sturtz said the College faculty’s collective desire to excite and empower the next generation of educators — like Coll, Budakoti, Kaplan, Trombly, and Henry, and so many other teaching graduates — is the backbone of “the many positive outcomes for our students.”

“Getting to know the students, and creating a positive learning environment is everything.” Hannah Trombly ’11

Facts and Information to Consider

  • In the academic year 2022-23, the college graduated 72 undergraduate and graduate students who were recommended for New Hampshire Licensure, which means they met decision points, testing requirements, and state requirements. Of those, 52 are working in schools in New England, and 37 are teaching in New Hampshire. Six of the graduates are in graduate programs.
  • In the past four years, looking at cohorts who entered the teacher workforce mid- or post-pandemic in Secondary English Education, 74 percent now teach English in New Hampshire and 96 percent do so in New England. Parsons said he suspects this kind of percentage applies to all Keene State education programs, not just Secondary English Education.
  • On a national scale, according to Educators Rising, 60 percent of teachers are in classrooms within 20 miles of where they went to college. Educators Rising supports students interested in education-related careers.
  • Keene State has constituent alumni in all 50 states, and some 150 living and/ or working abroad, but more than 16,700 of its alums live in and/or work in New Hampshire.
  • Graduates who participate in an internship, which includes student teaching, are two and a half times more likely to stay in New Hampshire to work. *From 2013 through 2022, the percentage of alumni whose work or graduate education is related to their studies at Keene State has ranged from 76 to 86.

That At-Home Feeling

While there may be an absence of consistent, sustained data to illustrate just how many education grads go on to teach locally or in New Hampshire, the data that does exist, coupled with anecdotal evidence, is considerable.

Bottom line, Parsons said, “Many of our alums end up teaching close to Keene State, which is remarkable.”

Keene State classroom-ready teaching graduates are always on our radar, said Rob Malay, Superintendent of Schools for School Administrative Unit 29, which includes Keene schools.

“The value of the symbiotic relationship between the college and our schools is huge on many levels, from collaborating on how public education has and continues to evolve, to providing real experiences for future educators, to identifying and designing programs that meet current needs, to providing support for one another, and to be a pipeline for graduates who we know will be well prepared. It’s an incredible benefit.” Sturtz said preparing students, inspiring them, and connecting them with schools is central to the program’s mission and a formula for producing in-demand graduates.

“Our faculty engage in advocacy, research, and collaboration with schools and community partners. … We are proud of the successful careers we see and hear about, and we think our job placement rate speaks for itself.”

“We know,” Parsons says, “that our alums are incredible teachers and humans. I wish everyone could see them work with our children and in our communities. It is breathtaking. And, despite pandemics, teacher shortages, and attacks on teachers, these English teachers find meaning and purpose in their work; they support our children through anything and everything, making sure students have the social-emotional and academic content they need. I am in awe of them. There ought to be a parade.”

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