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Apple Valley Team Fortitude honored for collaborative teaching

Team Fortitude, a three-person team of eighth-grade teachers, and a teacher assistant at Apple Valley Middle School have been recognized by the North Carolina Association for Middle Level Education for their outstanding performance in middle school education.


Ashley Ruzich, Jessica Reid and Donna Sargent have been named the NCMLE’s “2021 Teaching Team to Watch,” the award given annually to a group of school-based professionals who routinely collaborate to effectively support the overall growth and development of middle school students.

Principal Katelyn Davis describes Team Fortitude as “three phenomenal women who each have their own skills and strengths that create an education that is challenging, passionate, fun, entertaining, standard driven, thought-provoking, and engaging.”

Apple Valley’s current Teacher of the Year, Reid blends intensity and humor into her social studies lessons, which Davis says are hands-on and rich with literature and media from American history. “You know you are nearing Ms. Reid’s class if you start to hear students debating about historical artifacts,” Davis says. A former high school teacher, mathematics teacher Sargent has the end goal in mind, providing her students with honest feedback on how to improve. “She prepares her students for their futures and is focused on what needs to be mastered in 8 h grade to be successful in high school,” Davis says.

In her third year of teaching, English & language arts teacher Ruzich may be the “rookie” on the team, but she’s an advanced practitioner.

“At the start of the school year, Ms. Ruzich helped her other teammates with integrating new technology into their virtual classrooms to make the learning experience enriching and entertaining for their virtual learners,” Davis says. “Ms. Ruzich is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to teach and reach her students.”

Haley Tatham, a teacher assistant at AVMS, earned the NCMLE’s “2021 School-Based Personnel to Watch” award, recognizing a support professional working in a middle school who goes above and beyond to enhance middle level education for students. During the Covid-19 school shutdown, she worked tirelessly with students facing emotional and behavioral challenges, offering individualized support online. This school year, Tatham has worked each afternoon with first year students in the newcomer program to help them become more proficient in English. She has also been instrumental in applying the Leader In Me model to student discipline – creating redirection materials and teaching students to process and talk through issues in an inclusive and accepting environment.

Every year the NCMLE Awards Committee selects state finalists from the nominations for the “Team to Watch,” “School-Based Personnel” and other designations, for which North Carolina practicing middle-level educators are eligible. State winners are recognized for academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity, and organizational structure and processes in middle level education. Recipients are typically recognized during the annual NCMLE conference in March, but the traditional conference will not be taking place face-to-face this year, and awards will be mailed to recipients.