Kicking off the 2021-22 school year, Cedar Shoals welcomes new staff into the building, including a world traveler, a hip-hop planner and a softball player.
Cedar Shoals’ new ninth grade English teacher Madison Steen did not have an average childhood. With her father in the military, Steen was born in Bamberg, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood traveling across Europe. When Steen returned to Alabama, readjusting to American life was difficult.
“Going into fourth grade, I could not read or write above a first or second grade level. My teacher realized that if she read to me, I would get all of the comprehension questions correct, but if I had to read it myself, I couldn’t do it. She realized that it was more reading itself and not a comprehension issue with my learning disability. So they sent me to get tested for dyslexia,” Steen said.
After Steen was diagnosed with dyslexia, her school was able to offer her services with a 504 plan. However, fitting in did not feel any easier.
“I was usually friends with those kids that were in the gifted groups. So understanding that I was behind in my ability to read even though I understood just as much as they did definitely played into my insecurity. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to go into English education, is to help the kids who I felt like when I was younger,” Steen said.
Due to her insecurities around reading and writing at a young age, Steen never imagined herself in an English profession, let alone teaching students who require individualized education programs and 504s for learning disabilities. It was not until Steen attended college that this changed.
“There was a professor at the University of Alabama, Karen Spector. She made it possible for me to fall in love with teaching, being dyslexic. I was in her class and it was to the point where I was pretty much ready to drop out of secondary education,” Steen said.
“She (Spector) was talking about how most people have the potential to be good at math, but somebody along the way told them that they couldn’t do it, and that’s why they think that they’re not good at it. Somebody told them, ‘You can’t do calculus,’ and then they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re right, I can’t do calculus.’ The reason why we need teachers with learning disabilities is so evident in the classroom. We have students who truly struggle the same way that we do,” Steen said.
Peer leadership and ethnic studies teacher William Montu Miller joins Cedar Shoals after working at Clarke Central for the past nine years as a paraprofessional. Miller, who students refer to as Montu, has also played an active role at the East Athens Community Center for the past two years, working as a recreational assistant.
“I think it (the East Athens Community Center) was a place for me to get to know the Eastside. A lot of the guys that used to come to play basketball, I’ve seen them in the halls. So it gave me a chance to kind of get to know some students before I came to Cedar,” Miller said.
Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Miller attended Morris Brown College in Atlanta before transferring to the University of Georgia in 1999. Miller graduated from UGA with a bachelor’s in African American studies last summer and is currently in graduate school getting his master’s in teaching secondary social studies at Piedmont University. After his move to Athens, Miller met his mentor Darren Rhym, who steered him towards teaching.
“For a while, I tried to deny the fact that I was an educator,” Miller said. “But I was always drawn back to education, always being a mentor, always teaching. About ten years ago, Darren Rhym sat me down and said, ‘Why are you playing?’ We had a heart to heart and he said, ‘It’s time for you to get in that classroom and do what you’re supposed to do.’”
Known by some as the Ambassador of the Athens Hip-Hop Community, Miller schedules hip-hop groups to perform at local events, such as Hot Corner Festival and AthFest. He also enjoys reading, writing and spending time with his family, including his five children.
With seniors coming out of virtual school and beginning to start their application processes, Cedar’s new college advisor Azariah Partridge is looking forward to aiding the 2022 class along their way.
“I am most excited about working really closely with this class, forming these relationships, and just getting to know them on a personal level and see what they do after they graduate,” Partridge said.
Fresh out of UGA with a Bachelor of Science in human development and family science, Partridge became a part of the Georgia College Advising Corps, a cooperation that helps students in underserved high schools go to college. From there, she found the opportunity to work at Cedar Shoals.
“The bigger picture is to be there for students so that they know they have someone in their corner: someone that is going to be behind them and push them and wants them to be successful, and who has all the resources for them to go off after they graduate high school — whether that is going to college, taking a gap year, going to the military or even going right into the workforce,” Partridge said.
Partridge is well aware of the struggles that come with deciding what to pursue after high school. Partridge attended Darton State College for one year before transferring to West Georgia Technical College. While at WGTC, Partridge felt that her ambitions lay elsewhere, and eventually transferred to UGA. Partridge attended both Darton State College and WGTC on softball scholarships, and played club softball at UGA.
“With applying there (Darton), I think my biggest drive at the time was playing softball. It may sound bad, but I didn’t really care about the work aspect just then. I was all softball, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in,” Partridge said.
Today, Partridge keeps herself busy in the Cedar Shoals community as an assistant softball coach for the Lady Jags. She wants students to know that she will always have their back and encourage them.
“My goal is to at least meet with 90% of the seniors here. I really want to help increase the graduation rate as well. I want students to know that you don’t have to be college bound, you don’t have to have a plan set. As long as you get your high school diploma and go off and do whatever you feel that you need to do, having this diploma, it’s gonna be life changing for you,” Partridge said.