Amanda Badali teaches social sciences to eighth-graders at the Imagine School at Surprise. She's teaching a section on the Holocaust.

Amanda Badali knows she’s making a difference in the classroom when students get those “a-ha” moments and begin to ask thoughtful and engaging questions on various assignments designed to enhance cognitive thinking and prepare them for 21st century skills.

As a Teach For America corps member, Badali works long hours — sometimes 12-hour days — in order for her students, some of whom come from broken families that are economically disadvantaged, to overcome obstacles in reading and writing, all in the name of eliminating educational inequity.

Individualized lessons and weekly quizzes are designed not only to learn in the short term, but also to push students to exceed grade level and be ready to learn more as they continue to matriculate.

“People would be surprised what middle school kids can do,” Badali said.

Sun Cities and Surprise residents are invited to find out more about Teach For America and the public education system in Arizona during an open house later this month. The event is from 3 to 4:30 p.m. March 28 at the Sun City West Foundation, 14465 R.H. Johnson Blvd. Doors open at 2:30 p.m. The event will allow the public to discuss how they can play a significant role in improving public education.

Students at Imagine Prep at Surprise view Badali’s enthusiasm as a positive, and unlike some students who tend to sit back and are disengaged, they high-five her on the way into class and enthusiastically raise their hands to answer questions.

Some even provide their own commentary on lessons learned while studying the Holocaust and the bombing of Pearl Harbor during social studies.

The Arizona State University secondary education and political science major believes in Teach For America’s mission, and her outgoing and enthusiastic nature is helping students make leaps in understanding basic concepts that were once foreign to them.

“I’m here to push students,” Badali says about having students think about all sides of the issue and form their own opinions about how historic events took place. “History didn’t happen through textbooks; it happened through actions.”

Badali even promised her students that she would combine the cheeseburger and fries found in a McDonald’s Happy Meal in a blender and gulp it down if the students averaged 80 percent or better on weekly quizzes.

She followed through and drank the concoction in three of her four classes, but the results, she said, were not pretty.

Badali’s students know their mastery of lessons learned in the classroom will not only affect their individual grades, but also those of their classmates.

The eighth-grade social studies and 12th-grade economics and government teacher often places students in groups in order for them to understand how to work as a team and come to a conclusion, despite many having different thought processes on various assignments.

“When a teammate is down, that team suffers,” Badali said. “The point of these exercises is for them to see the big picture and be able to synthesize and explain information in order to master the concepts.”

Zach Colick may be reached at 623-876-2522 or zcolick@yourwestvalley.com.

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