November 20, 2017
School & Youth
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  • Ruth Parker Eason’s Alma Durm works tirelessly to advocate on behalf of her high school students in Millersville.
    Zach Sparks
    Ruth Parker Eason’s Alma Durm works tirelessly to advocate on behalf of her high school students in Millersville.

Alma Durm Pays Special Attention To The Needs Of Her Students

Zach Sparks
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February 8, 2017
The 2017 Anne Arundel County Public Schools Teacher of the Year semifinalists cover a wide range of grade levels and subject areas. Among the 10 potential winners are Tim Smith, a physical education teacher at Folger McKinsey Elementary in Severna Park; Robert Stojakovich, a music teacher at Magothy River Middle School in Arnold; and Alma Durm, who teaches special-needs students at Ruth Parker Eason School in Millersville.
 
The semifinalists will be honored at the 31st annual Excellence in Education banquet at the BWI Marriott in Linthicum on April 26, and one of these three may represent Anne Arundel County Public Schools as its Teacher of the Year. But before that, get to know these dedicated educators who consider teaching to be more than just a job.
 

During a late-January lesson on conflict and change, Ruth Parker Eason School teacher Alma Durm distributed miniature American and Soviet Union flags to the seven high-schoolers in her class and had them read aloud, emphasizing the impact of decisions made by both countries during the Cold War.

In her lesson, Durm used assistive technology, like the BIGmack speech generating device, to meet the needs of her verbal and nonverbal learners.

Durm’s class is not a typical group; she has one student with Down syndrome, some with autism, and one who is both deaf and blind. With the help of two assistants, she communicates with each adolescent in the way that suits his or her preferred system of communication.

“The best thing about Alma is her passion for the students,” said Principal Patricia Kelly. “You can walk in this classroom at any time and the students are engaged in meaningful activities.”

During the January lesson, Durm high-fived one student who reached a correct answer, and then, continuing with the theme of conflict and change, she had students make cards that reinforced positive messages.

Reading from an essay she penned, she said, “In my line of teaching, it is vital not only to advocate for my students but also to empower them to advocate for themselves. I spend a great deal of time getting to know my students and what they need and finding the ways to meet those needs, whether it’s a tablet to increase their self-expression, a meeting to help navigate agency linkages, or writing in different colors to help with clarity.”

The 37-year teaching veteran admitted that she needed much training before she was prepared to work with a group of students who have such distinct needs. Durm taught preschool in New Jersey and served for 10 years at the Kennedy Krieger School in Baltimore before joining Ruth Parker Eason School in 2000.

“I trained hard to get here,” said Durm, who is nationally board-certified. “Anne Arundel County is very supportive of us [teachers] and in continuing my education.”

Outside her classroom, Durm is heavily involved in school activities. She helped resurrect the PTO three years ago, she spearheads the school’s Relay For Life team, and for 16 years, she has been the school’s representative for the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.

But the most gratifying aspect of her job is seeing students progress and hearing from several former students and their families who still maintain contact. Durm nearly cried when speaking about her mission to help youth and how her effort is being recognized by Anne Arundel County.

“I’d be honored and humbled,” Durm said of being named Teacher of the Year. “There are so many really good teachers in this county.”


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