Passing the Torch of Teacher Excellence

Beth Scripa

Beth Scripa proudly wears the Claxton Medallion presented to her in April 2012.

When Elizabeth “Beth” Scripa thinks about previous teachers who have made a lasting impact on her life, she is immediately drawn back to her fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Carroll, “whose classroom transformed even the most reluctant learners into excited students,” recalls Scripa, a native of Kingsport, Tennessee.

“What I remember most about her class are the times she spent reading aloud to us. She always made the time feel special, sometimes by turning off the lights and lighting a candle, other times by lowering her voice and getting into character. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and I aim to spread the same kind of enthusiasm for learning in my own classroom,” Scripa says.

Scripa, who graduated summa cum laude in May with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish, is the 2012 recipient of the Claxton Medallion Award, which, in addition to a medal, carries a monetary award of $5,000 that will allow Scripa to complete her graduate internship at Norwood Elementary School without juggling a paying job as well. While her immediate professional goal is to become an elementary school teacher, Scripa hopes to eventually obtain a PreK-12 Reading Specialist License.

The Claxton Medallion, established in 1995 by former College of Arts and Sciences board member Philander P. Claxton, Jr. in memory of his father, Dr. Philander P. Claxton, is awarded each year to the most deserving graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences who will be entering a fifth-year internship in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences to become a teacher. The monetary award has increased in recent years from $1,000 to $5,000 and is currently funded through a direct contribution from the Claxton family.

Dr. Claxton was the U.S. Commissioner of Education under presidents William Taft and Woodrow Wilson. He is well known for organizing the Summer School of the South, a regional program for public school teachers held at UT in the early 1900s. The Education Complex on the UT Knoxville campus bears his name.

Philander Claxton, Jr. was born in Washington, D.C., and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in 1934. He also received a master’s degree from Princeton University and was a 1938 graduate of Yale Law School. An expert in population control, he was a longtime State Department official and served as an advisor during the U.N. World Population Conference in Bucharest, Romania, in 1974. From 1978 to 1988 he was a consultant to the Futures Group in Washington on several projects involving the U.S. Agency for International Development. His work analyzed population as it figured into social and economic factors in countries around the world.

Arts and Sciences officials said Philander Claxton, Jr. was very proud of the Claxton Medallion Award and enjoyed presenting it and meeting the recipients each spring. He died in 1999 at age 84, so now his son, Philander Claxton, III, carries on the tradition and awards the Claxton Medallion and scholarship each year in honor of both his father and his grandfather. In 2008, Mr. Claxton added the Teacher Employment Award to the Claxton Medallion to help retain good teachers in Tennessee.  Recipients of the Claxton Medallion receive $5,000 a year for each of the first four years they teach in Tennessee after receiving their master’s degree.

“I feel so honored to be chosen as the recipient of this award out of all the highly qualified Arts and Sciences students,” Scripa says. “Since the internship year combines graduate coursework, research, and time in a classroom, it leaves very little time for a paying job, so the scholarship takes a huge financial weight off my shoulders.” While most UT students, including Scripa, had the HOPE Scholarship for financial assistance during their undergraduate years, the HOPE doesn’t cover graduate studies.

At UT, Scripa has been a member of Sigma Delta Pi (the national collegiate Hispanic honor society) and has volunteered for the Knoxville-area “Character Counts” program, providing childcare and judging essays. She worked part-time throughout her college years, including providing childcare for Fountain City United Methodist Church and serving as a counselor at Kids Place, Inc.; she has also worked at the bookstore on campus.

“As an Arts and Sciences alumna, I feel that I am leaving UT as a well-rounded person with a greater global perspective. I know that as a teacher I will use the problem solving and time management strategies I have developed as a student, as well as my knowledge of the Spanish language and culture as we become more and more a global community,” Scripa says.

Scripa already feels a special connection to Norwood Elementary where she will be interning in the fall; her aunt worked there, and her husband was a student there.

Claxton award winnersWith her teachers’ legacies guiding her, Scripa hopes to provide the same kind of positive role model for her future students as she had. “My goal as a teacher will be to show my students that learning can be enjoyable, regardless of their diverse educational backgrounds and home lives, and that the skills and knowledge they acquire in the classroom can be useful to them beyond the school’s doors,” she says.

“I really believe that teachers can make a difference in how children view the world and their place in it, and I would love to be a part of that change.”

–Sara Collins Haywood


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