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Local English teacher receives $10,000 grant for innovative program

October 20, 2018 GMT

Norwich — English teacher Pamela Santerre drives to Three Rivers Middle College High School each morning from her home in Thompson, passing the nearly hourlong drive by listening to true crimes podcasts.

Her 11th- and 12th-grade students at the middle college take classes designed to prepare them for English 101 in college, which can be challenging to some students. Thinking about creative ways to motivate students to do more reading, writing and research in today’s modern and distracting society, Santerre turned to her own passion for podcasts.

Santerre on Thursday was one of five teachers statewide to be awarded a $10,000 grant from Dalio Foundation and DonorsChoose.org to fund “projects offering innovative solutions to improve outcomes and promote educational achievement.”

Santerre last semester created a crime writing class for 16 junior English students, challenging them to research, read and write about true crimes and investigations. She will use the grant to purchase equipment for a “part two” class for seniors in the spring semester that will ask students to research topics and create their own podcasts, though not necessarily on crime-related topics. The crime-writing class for juniors will continue, as well.

“It’s amazing to be recognized for being innovative, for doing the things I know my students need to succeed,” Santerre said.

She said some students have struggled with reading and writing, and by engaging them in a modern-era innovation, the popular podcast, she hopes to stimulate that learning. They will have to read to research their topics, write their podcast themes and produce the podcasts.

“Some are interested in crime-based podcasts,” she said. “One teen is interested in an automotive-based podcast, teaching kids to work on their cars, and one said he wants to do one on his favorite video game.”

Santerre hopes to use part of the grant to fund a field trip for the entire school to Mystified Escape Rooms in Mystic. The facility has three rooms and can accommodate all 67 middle college students in three waves to experience the escape rooms that feature hidden clues, puzzles and mysterious objects participants have to work together to decipher.

Santerre said she developed her own curriculum for the crime-writing class last semester, including nonfiction books, allowing students to do independent studies on true crimes and analyzing the new film adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express.” Students read the original Agatha Christie novel and compared it to the movie. Next semester, she plans to have students read the novel “The Hate U Give,” which has contemporary themes of law enforcement and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“My job is to help them become adult thinkers and learners and to discuss difficult topics,” Santerre said.

A 12-year veteran teacher, Santerre has taught at Three Rivers Middle College High School since the school opened in 2012 with two teachers, Principal Brad Columbus, an administrative assistant and a part-time guidance counselor. Prior to joining the fledgling high school, Santerre taught at Woodstock Middle School and at Tourtellotte Memorial High School in Thompson.

c.bessette@theday.com