The Road to Reading
Jeff Mann’s ROAD Scholars wins MSD Lawrence Township Design Challenge
Writer / Joshua Lowe
Sixty great ideas. Only one would be the winner. The winning idea would have to be the most innovative and have the most potential to impact not just a single classroom or even a single school — it would have to impact all aspects of Lawrence Township Schools (MSDLT).
The project was sponsored by the Lawrence Township School Foundation, which provides teachers with funding for programs not supported by tax dollars. The winning idea, named ROAD Scholars, came from Jeff Mann, a 20-year veteran English teacher.
MSDLT continues to search for business practices that are unique to a school district, notes Director of Grants and Programs Patricia Gerber.
“One of these business practices is to reward an employee who proposes an idea that can improve the effectiveness, efficiency or outcomes of the overall system,” Gerber says.
The Design Challenge begins with a short online application — teachers outline their ideas, how they feel it would improve the district and what resources would be needed. The Design Challenge Review Team used a rubric to score more than 60 projects. Just a few finalists then submitted a full proposal.
Eventually, Dr. Shawn Smith, MSDLT Superintendent, reviewed the proposals, the rubrics and the rankings and ultimately selected Jeff Mann’s ROAD Scholars.
Mann, who lives in New Palestine with his wife and three children, began his career in education at Mount Vernon High School and eventually moved to Craig and Belzer Middle School, teaching 7th and 8th grade language arts.
Even though Mann has a Master’s in School Administration, he can’t imagine himself out of the classroom.
“It’s still fun, and I still enjoy it,” he says. “I do my best to connect kids to books.”
Mann particularly enjoys trying to make writing practical to students. For a recent research assignment, instead of writing a traditional research paper, students made webpages to present their research.
“I’m always trying to bring a new twist to keep things interesting,” Mann says.
In 2009, Jeff received the Lilly Creativity Grant for his project with Riley Children’s Hospital called “Room Rocker,” an online, kid-centered radio station. Part of the grant allowed him to visit Zimbabwe and volunteer at orphanages and schools.
The idea for the ROAD Scholars initially occurred to Jeff as he watched an older student help his 1st grade daughter as she boarded the school bus. Eventually, he designed the ROAD Scholars mentoring program in which older students would sit and read with younger students on the school bus. Student mentors would be selected by their teachers and undergo tutoring and leadership training.
“ROAD Scholars fit right in with our biggest initiative to improve our reading achievement,” Gerber says. “It focused on the socio-emotional side of riding the bus and having a peer buddy.”
Mann developed his proposal over several weeks, researching similar programs and best practices. He eventually created a video to advertise his proposal. During the end-of-the-year celebration, he and the other finalists were called to the stage. When ROAD Scholars was announced as the winner, Jeff received a giant check for $20,000.
“I was absolutely thrilled,” he says.
Mann spent much of his childhood in southern Ireland, so he has one important plan for the money — attend the U2 concert in Indy this summer.
And, of course, he looks forward to seeing ROAD Scholars implemented next school year. Visit msdltf.org to learn more about the Lawrence Township Foundation.