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Moravia teacher named ‘outstanding’ educator by state group

head and shoulders photo of Julie Hempson
Julie Hempson
Jan. 26, 2018 -- When Moravia Middle School Principal Bruce MacBain walked into Julie Hempson’s social studies classroom on Wednesday and shut the door behind him, she feared the worst.

“I thought something was wrong,” she said.

Instead, Mr. MacBain had the happy task of delivering good news: Ms. Hempson had been tapped as New York state’s Outstanding Social Studies Classroom Teacher (Middle School) by the New York State Council for the Social Studies.

“I jumped like 50 feet when he told me,” Ms. Hempson said. “It’s a huge honor. I’m humbled and honored and excited.”

“Our middle school program has been recognized both nationally and statewide. We work as a team but we are also made up of individuals,” the principal said. “It's awesome to be able to recognize Ms. Hempson for her talents and efforts. She has been an integral part of building our program.”

Mr. MacBain nominated her for the award, and Moravia colleagues Stephanie Cronk and John Cronin wrote letters of support.

“Julie Hempson is undoubtedly the best candidate for the award because of her innovation in the classroom and dedication to her students,” fellow social studies teacher Ms. Cronk writes in her letter. “Julie’s greatest strength is to make social studies relevant and meaningful for her students by teaching social justice and civic engagement.”

photo of a female teacher helping a male studentMr. Cronin, who teaches English language arts in the middle school, lauded Ms. Hempson’s dynamic approach, rapport with students and success in increasing student achievement. The two frequently work together to build interdisciplinary units whenever curricular connections can be made between ELA and social studies.

“On a daily basis, Julie and I work to improve the reading ability and literacy skills of our students through our co-teaching AIS (academic intervention services) model,” he writes in his letter of support to the social studies council. “Julie facilitates a small reading group in my ELA class, demonstrating her ability to effectively teach ELA content and increase student engagement and comprehension.”

A native of Cortland, Ms. Hempson graduated from Homer Central School District in 2002 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in social studies education from Ithaca College and a master’s from Syracuse University. She and her husband live in Skaneateles with their 18-month-old daughter.

The die was cast early for a future at the front of a classroom.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “When I was little, I was teaching my stuffed animals, I had a chalkboard. That’s the only thing I wanted to be.”

Asked about the main attraction, she answers unequivocally: “The kids.”

“There are days I can’t believe I get paid for this job,” she said. “Just watching their faces when they have an ‘aha’ moment and you realize they’re understanding their world.”

Why social studies? For one, her mother taught the same subject. And she was inspired by a pair of dedicated teachers she herself had in middle and high school.

“This is obviously my passion. I think social studies is so important, especially now when there’s such a strong focus on STEM and also when we’re in this era of people labeling information as ‘fake news.’ It’s so important to teach students today how to think critically, make literate decisions and judge the biases people have.”

She’s dedicated to helping her students understand “how this country works, how this government works, why we’re in the wars we’re in,” she said. “As a nation, we want better citizens, better people running for public office. We need participatory, critically engaged citizens.”

Ms. Hempson will receive her award in March at the NYSCSS’ annual convention in Albany. Closer to home, she’ll be honored by the Moravia Board of Education at its Feb. 14 meeting.