It All Adds Up: The Story of Jolette McDonald

Jolette McDonald was a cashier at a grocery store when she would be asked a question that would change her life. “How many half-gallons of milk does it take to make a whole?” It was an innocent question, but for Jolette it would lead to career in education, specifically teaching math to students that struggled with numbers.

The opening bell rings and within minutes her classroom is alive with activity. The students are buzzing, but instead of idle chatter they are each setting up their space to prepare to learn. A casual observer might think this to be a class of advanced math students accustomed to rigorous and disciplined study. They would be wrong. Mrs. McDonald teaches students who struggle in 8th grade math, particularly Algebra.

Math is an important part of a student’s education, and many state assessment tests place it at the top of the list when grading a particular district on performance. To Jolette it was more than just a marker for progression, she is on a mission to ensure that her students can understand and interact with math in meaningful ways, including buying milk for their families. It was this passion that fueled her unique style of collaborative learning, and led her to experiment with developing a different kind of classroom.

 

Her vision was for tables that allowed her students the extra space they needed to break apart and explore problems. She wanted tables that were easy to move and that provided an opportunity for groups, making it easier for her to survey the class quickly and determine where her time could best be spent. And if there was a way for students to write directly on these tables, that was a plus. After several DIY projects her vision came together, albeit primitive, and after a year in her “homemade” environment the test results speak for themselves. On the Florida Standards Assessment of that year her “struggling” math students scored a pass rating of 51% beating the district average by several points. To many, this kind of success would be cause for celebration, for Jolette it proved a hypothesis and compelled her to take her vision to the next level.

At an awards dinner honoring her induction into the Math Hall of Fame for Brevard Public Schools she took the opportunity to ask another question that would have a profound effect on her life, “How many awards do I have to win before I get furniture for my classroom?” It was directed toward the captive audience of school district officials sitting at her otherwise quiet table. The district and her school’s administration gave their blessing and Jolette reached out to Cindy Wessel, Learning Environment Specialist with MeTEOR education.

Cindy visited the classroom and helped Jolette develop an environmental plan for the 2.0 version of her classroom. The new furniture was installed during the winter break of 2015, leaving a half semester for students to engage and interact with this new space. What happened next was truly amazing. The Florida Standards Assessment came later that spring and, when the results were in, Mrs. McDonald was shocked. Her students had jumped to a pass rating of 84%, beating the district average of 48%. Her students went from a 51% pass rating to an 84% pass rating in one year, a feat she credits to her new environment that allowed for collaborative learning.

Jolette McDonald is a teacher that is passionate about her students. MeTEOR Education is driven by a desire to get the right tools into the hands of teachers like Mrs. McDonald. When a partnership like this comes together it all adds up, and the students win.

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