Like mother, like daughter: Debbie Peabody and Amanda McClure in the architectural drafting lab at Union Grove High School.
Like mother, like daughter: Debbie Peabody and Amanda McClure in the architectural drafting lab at Union Grove High School.

To say that Amanda McClure followed her parents into the family business would be putting it mildly. Both her mother and father taught at Union Grove High School, and she wound up in both their classes.

Her father taught AP government and Honors economics and her mother taught architectural drafting and engineering as part of the school’s Career, Technical & Agricultural Education (CTAE) program. She was in her mom’s class four years in a row and then had both mom and dad as teachers her senior year. “That was tough,” she said.

But she had always known she wanted to teach, and the way things worked out her mother wound up retiring shortly after Amanda finished college and started her own teaching career at another local school, Ola High.  Union Grove school administrators probably figured they couldn’t go far wrong by keeping it in the family and asked Amanda to step into her mother’s classroom.

So far things have worked out pretty well, especially if Amanda’s early teaching recognition is any indication.  She was recently named “New Teacher of the Year” by two organizations, the Trade & Industrial Educators of Georgia (TIEGA) and the Georgia Association for Career & Technical Education (GACTE). With the GACTE honor under her belt, she will soon compete for the national Association for Career & Technical Education’s Region II honors.

Both awards owe in some measure to techniques and practices her mother used with Amanda and countless other students over many, many years.  One of those involved taking the top students in her junior and senior classes to the elementary schools that feed Union Grove High and getting them to interact with third, fourth and fifth graders who are already demonstrating some creative interest in designing and constructing buildings. Her mother pioneered that practice for years at Stockbridge High School, and Amanda is now incorporating the practice into teaching a new “Jump into STEM” program created by SkillsUSA to introduce elementary school students to the practical applications of science, technology, engineering and math.

Her class was part of a local SkillsUSA chapter that was selected to pilot “Jump into STEM,” and it adds a new dimension to her students’ classroom experience. “The students spend a few weeks preparing on their own,” Amanda says.

“They have to be knowledgeable about STEM career fields,” she adds, “but they also have to understand and be able to apply classroom management techniques, and they have to be able to assist students with hands-on activities.”

It’s also energizing and engaging for high school and elementary school students alike, she says. When her high schoolers are working with the elementary school students, they’re usually helping them with various practical exercises and engaging them in activities designed to stimulate creative thinking. One such activity is to use two or three newspaper pages and figure out how to build the tallest possible tower.

Often, she says, the elementary school students will roll up the sheets of paper and create a telescoping sort of structure. But some groups get outside the box and develop innovative designs that carry the day. Some fold the newspaper pages into cubes and stack them one on top of the other; one group created a tripod base to support a central tower.  “It’s exciting to see their imagination at work,” Amanda says.

“We’ve had fourth grade students who built higher towers than 10th graders, and 12th graders who got them higher than high school teachers,” she says.

In addition to grooming promising young elementary school students, Amanda has already produced a few star high school students of her own. One, Montana Ray, won first place in the American Institute of Architect’s Atlanta High School Design competition and is now pursuing a degree in architecture at Georgia Tech. Another student, Sam Suessmith, won third place but – as a result of the competition – decided he was more interested in the marketing of exciting new buildings and is now working on a marketing degree at the University of Georgia.

And, who knows, her current or future classes may well include the next generation of architectural and drafting teachers in Henry County and elsewhere.

(Photo by Morganne Thomas, Union Grove High School yearbook staff.)