As this cycle of Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Awards draws to a close, we are pleased to highlight the final three 2017 award winners. Each received $5,000, with an additional $500 for their respective schools to purchase humanities-based instructional materials. Read more about these amazing Texas teachers, and stay tuned for the announcement of our 2018 Outstanding Teaching Award winners in May!

Jennifer Chase, The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Houston

In her three years as a world geography teacher at The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) in Houston, Jennifer Chase has made a significant impact.

"Whether working with her world geography classes, collaborating with the National Honor Society members, or spending extra time tutoring a struggling student, Jennifer is always doing what is best for the students," said HSPVA principal R. Scott Allen. "She is one of the most talented and engaging teachers I have had the opportunity to work with in my twenty-six years of education."

Chase also serves as one of eight teachers on Houston Independent School District's Social Studies Teacher Leader Corps, mentoring other teachers and promoting social studies education district-wide. She was a finalist for Houston ISD secondary teacher of the year and a semi-finalist for an H-E-B Excellence in Education Award.

Chase's freshman geography classes are uniquely designed to invite students to seek out and be conscientious consumers of information. Her classroom is a hub of inquiry, activity, and independent thought; she exposes her students to global concerns and encourages them to consider the wide variety of voices, perspectives, and ideas that surround these issues.

"I believe it is often the humanities that teach the critical thinking skills our world needs most," said Chase. "To this end, I strive to better my pedagogy and my profession and, most importantly, to influence my students to recognize the importance of humanities."

Patricia Ritchie, International Leadership of Texas, Fort Worth

Patricia Ritchie won the 2017 Humanities Texas Linden Heck Howell Outstanding Teaching of Texas History Award.

Ritchie has taught Texas history for eleven years, the last two of which she spent at International Leadership of Texas Keller K-8 in Fort Worth before transitioning to Tidwell Middle School in Roanoke for the current school year. While a teacher at International Leadership of Texas, Ritchie also sponsored the Texas Junior Historian Program at the school. The club raises money to contribute to historical preservation efforts and takes trips around the state to visit historical landmarks and museums that supplement classroom curriculum.

"Teaching students about our great state is very important to me," said Ritchie. "Texas history is so rich in exploration, religion, culture, architecture, and patriotism. When students hear the music of [a specific] time period, see the places, and create projects, it makes them take ownership of their learning and see that they can make history come alive."

Sharon Snowton, Highlands Elementary School, Cedar Hill

Sharon Snowton, whose teaching career spans twenty-five years, teaches bilingual writing in Spanish and English, social studies in Spanish, and science in Spanish in the third grade Dual Language Program at Highlands Elementary School, where she has taught since 2013.

"Sharon Snowton is a veteran bilingual teacher who teaches humanities through the writing her Dual Language Enrichment program students do," commented Highlands Elementary School principal Damian Patton. "She saw a need for people to learn English, and she provided them the opportunity to be given classes. She believes everyone should be bi-lingual, bi-literate, and bi-cultural."

Snowton's method of teaching takes various creative forms. She has her students write a monthly newspaper called the Highlands Gazette, in which they publish sports stories, cartoons, short stories, poems, and puzzles. In addition to this monthly project, her students publish a book each year. The success of these modes of teaching has resulted in Snowton sharing her methods and having them incorporated into TEKS standards for bilingual education.

"Humanities are academic disciplines that study aspects of human cultures—the arts, music, religion, language, food, social habits, and passing part of ourselves to the next generation," said Snowton. "This year, we wrote in our bilingual newspaper using the theme 'Tell My Story,' and we published a book called Diga mi historia. My students told their stories and shared of themselves. Humanities education helps us understand not only others, but ourselves."

OTA winner Jennifer Chase in her classroom at Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
Jennifer Chase with students at the Great Wall of China.
Patricia Ritchie, winner of the 2017 Linden Heck Howell Outstanding Teaching of Texas History Award, with students at her school's history fair.
Patricia Ritchie with her class on a field trip.
OTA winner Sharon Snowton in her classroom at Highlands Elementary School in Cedar Hill.