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Shannon Garrison: TEP Alumna Goes the Extra Mile As Olympic Torchbearer


By Joanie Harmon

Published Jul 26, 2012 8:00 AM

Shannon Garrison (Psychology, '96; Teacher Education Program, '98) and her students at Solano Avenue Elementary School have a special reason to look forward to the 2012 Olympic Games this summer. The fourth-grade teacher carried the Olympic Flame through Edinburgh, Scotland on June 14. She recalls the feeling of taking part in her quarter-mile of the historic run.


Fourth grade teacher Shannon Garrison (Psychology, '96; Teacher Education Program, '98) in Edinburgh, where she carried the Olympic Torch in celebration of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Courtesy of Shannon Garrison.

“From the moment I woke up the day I was going to carry the torch, it was a whirlwind – absolutely amazing,” says Garrison, a graduate of the Teacher Education Program at the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies at UCLA. “The day was so special. There were so many people, including whole classes of students from local schools, who came out to cheer on the torchbearers. The segment of the torch relay I ran had tons of children. I felt like my class was there in spirit.”

Garrison was selected as one of five teachers to carry the Olympic Torch this summer by the Samsung Corporation and John Legend’s Show Me Campaign, as a way to recognize the work of teachers who go “the extra mile.” Singer-songwriter Legend also carried the torch through Edinburgh, and met with the teachers who were chosen to take part in Olympic history.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” enthuses Garrison. “From the moment we got there, we were treated like royalty. We got to have dinner the last night on the Queen’s [yacht], the Royal Britannia with John Legend. He was there to support the teachers and made a big point of congratulating us and thanking us for what we do.”

Garrison, who won the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award in 2008, is no stranger to such accolades. She has also done her part in achieving recognition for her school; Solano Avenue Elementary was designated a National Blue Ribbon School in 2009 and received its third California Distinguished School recognition in 2012, thanks to her authorship of the applications for these titles. On an individual level, she says that receiving the Milken Award expanded her career perspective.

“From that moment on, my career changed,” Garrison notes. “I have a more expanded view of how I as a teacher can make a difference. Before the award, I tried my best to make a difference in the school and local community. Now I have bigger aspirations that I can make a difference beyond my classroom.”

Garrison’s ability to make a difference includes her serving as a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, an independent, bipartisan group that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card. The assessment provides objective information on student performance to policymakers and the public at local, state, and national levels.

Garrison asserts that she includes “making people aware of the state of education as it is” among her responsibilities as a teacher.

“It’s news for a day, and then everyone [shrugs], ‘Oh yeah, we’re not doing very well in the United States,’” Garrison says. “There are a lot of organizations out there that are pushing for policy changes, but if you don’t know about them, then your voice is not heard. I’m making sure that my voice is heard, that other teachers can be heard as well, and I’m letting parents know how they can advocate for their child.”

In addition, Garrison received a fellowship to the Lowell Milken Center in Fort Scott, Kansas where she studied using project-based learning to celebrate “Unsung Heroes Who Change the World.” Garrison and her students researched, wrote, and produced a play on Ralph Lazo, a Chicano teenager who willingly accompanied his Japanese American friends to incarceration at Manzanar during World War II.

Garrison has been at Solano Avenue Elementary School since 1997, one of only ten teachers. She observes that being in such a small school presents the challenge of ensuring that her lessons are appropriate for every skill and language level.

“Because I’m the only 4th grade teacher, I have everything from English Language Development Level One students to children who speak fluent English,” Garrison says. “It’s really about focusing on meeting the needs of each individual child.”

Garrison is confident that earning her teaching credential at the GSE&IS provided “an absolutely perfect balance” between the philosophical and practical training she would need as a teacher in an urban school. She credits mentors like Sheila Lane, faculty advisor, TEP, and Nancy Parachini, director of the Principal Leadership Institute, for propelling her to success.

“Everything I’ve been able to accomplish up to this point I owe to UCLA and the base that I got there,” she points out. “The TEP program allowed me to develop my own philosophy on education based in research. I think that’s important so that when I have a parent asking, ‘Why are you doing your lesson in this way?’ – I have a reason.”

“The support I received at UCLA was amazing. The program was focused on preparing us to teach in inner city schools and really prepared us for the challenges that we would face,” emphasizes Garrison. “I could always email or call and say, “This is what I’m dealing with right now, I’m wondering if there’s anybody who has a suggestion for an article or book I can read, or somebody I can discuss it with.’ I’ve been able to go back and share what I’ve learned in the classroom with some of the new students who are going through TEP; that connection has been great as well.”

Garrison, who also holds master’s degrees in psychology from Pepperdine University and administration from CSU Northridge also passes the lamp of learning to her fourth graders each year by taking them to UCLA’s “I’m Going to College” program.

“The best gift a teacher can receive is the knowledge that they have made a difference in a student’s life. Each year, many of my students come back and tell me where they are going to college. This year, several are on their way to UCLA. They’ve known since 4th grade that they were going there, and now they are. It’s pretty cool.”

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