A SUNY Cortland professor who never taught Amber Larkin Rice ’03 nominated her for Distinguished Young Alumna after reading about her accomplishments in a 2007 newspaper article listing 20 of the most honored U.S. teachers.
USA Today placed her on its 2007 All-USA Teacher Team for transforming the lives of her impoverished, homeless and, in some cases, recent refugee students in Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city. The Rome, N.Y. native who earned her elementary education degree from SUNY Cortland and has been teaching at Billingsville Elementary School and its predecessor, Chantilly Elementary School, since graduation has become a national role model for inner-city educators.
“To say the least, I was blown away by both the award and the creativeness of her teaching,” observed SUNY Distinguished Service Professor of History Roger Sipher. “In 2006 all of her students passed the North Carolina End of Grade tests despite the fact that she teaches in the lowest performing school in the district. This despite the fact that she teaches in a school wherein 91 percent of the students receive either a free or a reduced fee lunch. And this despite the fact that 30 percent are English as a second language students and 18 percent are homeless.”
USA Today selected Rice from among thousands of nominees. The USA Today article noted that Larkin will do whatever it takes to make her students learn. She created a military camp and battle scene to teach a lesson on the Civil War and transformed her classroom into a “grab and go” style grocery store to teach math. Within her classroom, she tailors her teaching method to the individual student. Quiet students are encouraged to talk and vocal students are given center stage.
“I loved Cortland and the education program was great,” said Rice, who still employs the technology research techniques she gained as an education undergraduate. “I feel like everything we did was real world. It wasn’t so much theory-based as it was about strategies that you could actually take with you and use.”
She earned a master’s degree at nearby Pfeiffer University. Since her nomination, Rice has earned the Successful Teacher Administrator Award, reflecting her high academic change in achievement levels of students previously performing below grade level for 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08.
Rice was the subject of a 2008 “Above and Beyond” feature story by CMS TV3. She appears on “The Power of Two,” a DVD produced by Marilyn Friend that provides a comprehensive look at co-teaching as part of the foundation of an inclusive, collaborative school.
She and her husband, Stephen, reside in Tega Cay, S.C.