When Thomas E. Wilcox began his tenure as Concord Academy’s eighth head of school in 1981, one of his primary goals was to strengthen the school’s “diversity of backgrounds and perspectives,” a central pillar of CA’s mission. Throughout his pivotal 19-year tenure, Wilcox broadened the school’s outreach, significantly increasing the representation of students, faculty, and trustees of color and spearheading a community-wide commitment to diversity and inclusion. So it was fitting that on his departure in the spring of 2000, the Board of Trustees honored his work by establishing the Wilcox Leadership Fund, an endowed fund intended to ensure future outreach efforts and launch a new initiative for inexperienced teachers from diverse backgrounds: the Wilcox Fellows Program. “It was a complete surprise and more than I could have ever dreamed of,” said Wilcox, who went on to become president and CEO of the Baltimore Community Foundation. “They endowed something that had — and continues to have — deep meaning for me.”

Wilcox Fellows Program
Science Department Head Andrea Yañes-Taylor was CA's first Wilcox Fellow.

Over the ensuing 15 years, CA has welcomed 29 fellows, who have served internships under the guidance of an experienced mentor. Typically, fellows teach two classes and engage in limited activities of their choosing, a model the school developed to place the focus squarely on the classroom. Fellows who are granted a second year are encouraged to take on additional responsibility to broaden their learning experience. “I’ve found over the years that Wilcox Fellows create a locus of positive energy in the school,” said Assistant Head of School and Academic Dean John Drew. “It’s important for students to have role models of all ages to introduce them to the life of the mind.”

Most Wilcox Fellows move ahead with teaching careers, graduate school, or related work in their fields. But a few have joined the permanent faculty, including current Science Department Head Andrea Yañes-Taylor, CA’s very first Wilcox Fellow. “There was not a lot of definition to the program when I became a fellow,” said Yañes-Taylor. “I enjoyed helping shape what it would eventually become, and because I chose to advise the Alianza Latina, I had the opportunity to work with a wonderfully diverse group of students outside the classroom.” John Drew was Yañes-Taylor’s mentor. “She was amazing from the start,” he recalled. “As a young, high-powered professional dedicated to her field, she became a role model for students.”

Yañes-Taylor has worked beside one Wilcox Fellow and served as mentor to another. Though both went on to non-teaching careers, Yañes-Taylor believes their fellowship experience helped them understand science from an important new perspective. “Teaching forced them to think about science in ways they’d never imagined before. They had to explain why it happens, how it works,” she said. “Learning how to explain scientific principles gave the knowledge more meaning in their own lives as well as in the lives of their students.”

In 2010, the mentoring component of the program was enhanced by the addition of a group seminar, led by veteran English teacher Abby Laber. These gatherings allow Wilcox Fellows to share ideas and concerns in the presence of a master teacher. “I love doing it,” said Laber. “The fellows inspire me with their desire to grow, and I like to show them that I’m always working on my own practice. It’s important for teachers to share the challenges of the classroom with other people.”

Wilcox Fellows Program 1
English teacher and former Wilcox Fellow Courtney Fields

Laber’s seminars were so successful that Dean of Faculty Jenny Chandler chose to offer similar group support to all new faculty members. “My approach to faculty orientation has been directly informed by the Wilcox seminars,” said Chandler, who invites fellows to join these larger gatherings as well. “Wilcox Fellows are an important presence and voice in the school, and they are treated as true colleagues, which helps them thrive. They may not go on to teach in the future, but they could. They become teachers here.”

 

‘There is nothing more valuable in your early years of teaching than being part of a community dedicated to guiding your evolution as an educator.’ – English teacher and former Wilcox Fellow Courtney Fields

Wilcox Fellows Program 2
Former Wilcox Fellow and film teacher Christopher Rhodes Jr. '07

English teacher Courtney Fields joined CA as a Wilcox Fellow in 2012 and was subsequently hired as a full-time faculty member. In addition to her classroom teaching, she has served on the Community and Equity and Student Support teams and has chosen to coach and become a house parent. “The Wilcox Fellows Program was essential for me, an aspiring teacher fresh out of grad school,” said Fields. “I left my graduate program energized by complex theories and texts, but I was hungry for pedagogical instruction. There is nothing more valuable in your early years of teaching than being part of a community dedicated to guiding your evolution as an educator. I now feel fully prepared for the opportunities and challenges that emerge in the classroom and beyond.”

Tom Wilcox recalls a recent visit to campus when he had lunch with Fields and other fellows of that year. “It was so rewarding to meet those vibrant, capable young people,” said Wilcox. “They had been given reasonable working lives as they were learning what it means to teach in rigorous classrooms like those at CA. My hope is that the Wilcox Fellows Program can serve as a beacon for educational outreach, leading the way for CA and other independent schools to become ever more welcoming to a wider world.”

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