Just a few months after being named a part of the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program, Orono Intermediate School teacher Dr. Katherine Willow has earned another high honor.

Willow, was recently selected as a Teacher Ambassador for the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

According to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development web site, the program was adapted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, and it provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests. The SDGs build on decades of work by countries and the UN, including the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

“I found out I was selected in an email,” Willow said. “I didn’t really believe it at first and had to read the email a few times before it sunk in. After doing a little happy dance and calling my parents, in typical teacher fashion, my head immediately started spinning with ideas of how I could leverage this opportunity in ways that would provide meaningful learning experiences for my students.”

Willow has already started to incorporate this opportunity into her classroom.

“Earlier this year, my students partnered with a science class in California to address SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation),” Willow said. “We co-taught a lesson utilizing the text ‘One Well: The Story of Water on Earth’ by Rochelle Strauss and the ‘Nibi Song’ (‘Water Song’) of the Anishinaabe people, who are native to Minnesota.”

“This year, my students also explored SDG 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions) through a series of lessons exploring music as a social force, specifically music’s role in the fight for civil rights in America and in South Africa. We are partnering with another ambassador located in Florida this month on a digital storybook project utilizing Orono’s Character Counts curriculum and the partner school’s ELA curriculum in order to address SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger).”

To become a Teacher Ambassador, Willow had to go through an application process which included detailing her past and current integrations of the SDGs in the classroom.

“My goal is to support the work of the United Nations’ efforts within K-12 classrooms,” she said. “Ambassadors accomplish this by connecting with other global educators dedicated to responding to a call to action within education to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, by creating and engaging in lessons and projects directly aligned with the SDGs, and through advocacy and outreach to inform K-12 stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, and community members).”

Willow has been in the classroom for 15 years. Her teaching career began in Boston, where she taught music, ELL reading and math in a multilingual school. She also co-founded the therapeutic music program at Massachusetts General Hospital. It was then off to New York and Cleveland, where she taught music at a college preparatory school and served as a principal harpist with the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra, respectively.

Three and a half years ago, she moved to Minnesota to be near family. She was hired at Orono as the third to fifth grade music teacher but her role has changed in the past year to COVID.

She is currently teaching the “Character Counts” curriculum this year. According to Willow, the Character Counts curriculum is based on six core values that define good character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

Willow will be off to South Korea in the summer of 2022 to further her work in the Fulbright Program. She was originally scheduled to do that this summer but it was postponed due to COVID.

According to a press release, the Fulbright Program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S government. Its purpose is “to increase mutual understanding and build lasting connections between people of the United States and people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).”

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