Groton teacher of the year teaches about ripple effects of kindness
Groton — Mystic River Magnet School kindergarten teacher Hilary Baude said her number one job as a teacher is to ensure that she is nurturing students as kind, responsible, caring people above all else and to make sure students feel safe, secure and connected to one another.
Baude said the biggest impact teachers can have is opening students’ eyes to let them think for themselves so they don’t just take the world around them at face value, but think a little deeper about who is and isn’t represented in narratives and spaces.
“I think just opening their eyes and allowing them to think for themselves empowers them to be better humans,” she said.
Baude, 40, who was hired by Groton Public Schools in 2006, recently was named the Groton school district’s Outstanding Educator/Teacher of the Year.
Baude said she places a heavy emphasis on social justice in her teaching and helping students start to confront some of those issues.
“I get a lot of questions of how do you do that with kindergarten students, and I think the key to social justice is empathy and being able to relate to others and being able to put yourself into someone else’s position and to look at a scenario from a variety of angles, and kindergarten students are experts at identifying what is fair and what is not fair,” she said. “They will tell you right away ‘that’s not fair’ so they actually innately are more in touch with some of these social justice issues than us as adults. I concentrate a lot on building that classroom community and raising awareness in our youngest students for how their actions and thoughts and feelings or inactions affect those around them.”
In a recent lesson centered around a social justice issue, students looked at a split image screen with a picture of the playground at their school and then an inclusive playground and discussed the differences, such as one having wood chips and the other have a flat surface that wheelchairs can access, she said. The students then wrote letters to the district administration and building administration to raise awareness about the issue.
At a Board of Education meeting last month, Mystic River Magnet School Principal Steve Wheeler called Baude a “master teacher with a command of curriculum, pedagogy and interpersonal skills.” He said Baude is not only a fierce advocate for all students, but gets to know them and their families and truly makes connections to meet their needs.
“Hilary is by far one of the hardest-working, intelligent and caring people that I know,” he said. “Her passion for life and selflessness can be only matched by her day-to-day work in her classroom. We are very fortunate to have her as part of our school community. Hilary’s passion for children and teaching is evident in everything she does.”
He said that “literacy comes to life” in Baude’s classroom and she creates wonderful learning opportunities to infuse play and bring joy to learning to all of her students.
Wheeler said that Baude tailors her teaching to accommodate diverse interests and provide individualized support, and she once told him that she doesn’t stop trying until something works. He said she has an innate ability to persevere until a strategy works or a behavior plan is tweaked many times to make that student successful.
He also pointed out that Baude’s reach goes beyond her endeavors and accomplishments at Mystic River Magnet School: she’s also an avid marathon runner, a kidney donor, has two little children and is in the process of getting her Ph.D. Baude said she currently is working toward her doctorate in administrative leadership and hopes to go into school leadership or consulting, with a focus on social-emotional learning.
In remarks at the meeting, Baude, who has worked 16 years as a teacher in Groton Public Schools in five different elementary schools, said one of the proudest moments working in the district was the formation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. She said about 100 staff members, including herself, joined the committee in hopes of doing the hard work to dismantle the policies, practices and systems that perpetuate injustices. She said the district has taken the imperative first steps in its mission for social justice and talked about her hopes for the future to have the district step outside of its comfort zone and have difficult conversations with staff, administrators and students, and then to “step outside of the comforting walls of our schools and into our communities, engaging with families and community members in their own neighborhoods and environments."
“It’s my hope that we embrace and commit to the opportunity in front of us to promote equity and justice,” she added.
Baude said she persevered through the challenges of the pandemic by trying to remember that as challenging as it was for educators, it was even more so for students and families. She always reassured parents that they’re doing the best they can given a really difficult situation, and their children are learning — first of all how to be resilient and that’s one of the most important lessons.
Baude said she wanted to express her utmost appreciation for the award and for the staff she works with — she said she feels strongly that any of them could have received this award — and she also very much appreciates the supportive administrators she works for.
Baude, who is originally from Carlisle, Pa., said the importance of giving back was instilled in her as a child. She remembers times when she was growing up when her family would go to the grocery store and there would be someone in need. Her mother would go back into the store with Baude to buy the person healthy food, and Baude said she’s always remembered that lesson.
Baude donated one of her kidneys last year, an experience that she said has shifted her life completely in the most positive way.
“I feel like I have a much deeper appreciation for the impact that we can have on others, and I try to embrace that as much as possible and try to instill that in my students as much as possible: that it doesn’t have to be a huge act. Any small act of kindness has this ripple effect that you might not even realize that the person you do it for is thinking about it months or years down the road," she said.
Among its awards, the district also recognized the following outstanding educators at its schools: Laurie Atkins at Charles Barnum Magnet School, Shannon Foley at Catherine Kolnaski STEAM Magnet School, Erin Dozier at Northeast Academy Arts Magnet School, Corey Mott at Thames River Magnet School, Anna Salvatore at Groton Middle School and Daniel Giovinazzo at Fitch High School. Baude is the distinguished educator both for Mystic River Magnet School and the entire district.