The National Society of High School Scholars annually recognizes 10 high school educators across the country who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to preparing students for success in college and in life. Inside and outside of the classroom, these winners are peer role models who demonstrate leadership and excellence in education.
Of the top 10 educators of the year, nine are selected as finalists who are awarded $1,000, and the top selected educator of the year is awarded $5,000. Advanced Via Individual Determination (AVID) teacher Gail Davis of Broadneck High School received the coveted award on October 26. Kamilah Murray, a Broadneck High School student, nominated Davis for this annual Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction Award. Davis is one of only four educators to be selected as a finalist from Maryland since 2012.
Directed toward first-generation college-bound students, AVID is a middle school and high school elective that provides students direct instruction on study skills, opportunities for in-school tutoring, access to college tours, directives on the financial aid and college application process, as well as support for taking honors and AP courses that are beneficial to college success. AVID offers a variety of classroom activities and resources that provide students with academic, social, and emotional support that will help them thrive in their college’s most rigorous courses.
Murray is one of the students who has received that support through AVID, thanks to Davis.
“I would say that her teaching style has impacted me in a pretty good way,” Murray said. “She always talks about speaking up for ourselves, which has helped me a lot. She always has real conversations when she talks to everyone and connects with people.”
Davis, a La Salle University graduate with a double major in English and education, aspired to be a teacher at a young age. She was also a collegiate athlete, as she received a full scholarship for basketball. Davis was a team captain her senior year, and her passion for athletics continued post-grad. As a graduate assistant at La Salle, after obtaining her master’s degree, she coached basketball at the United States Naval Academy for two years and at Georgetown University for six years. She then started her high school coaching career in New York in 1998. During these experiences, she recognized that she was educating her athletes to be top-tier basketball players, which is ultimately where her evolution as a teacher began.
“I first ended up getting into college basketball coaching, which is education in a different form and teaching in a different form,” Davis said. “But then, as life evolved, it became difficult to do that with a family. So, I chose coaching at the high school level, as well as teaching. So, I’m a second career traditional educator in the classroom.”
Retiring from coaching in 2019, Davis is now able to use her coaching skills in the classroom, fostering an environment where students improve their performance and overall development. Teaching collaboration and cultivating discipline with time management are staples when it comes to the curriculum of the AVID program. And with that, her group of AVID juniors are able to build confidence and leadership.
Davis’ passion for athletics extends across professional and personal boundaries. Her husband, Emmett Davis, is the men’s associate head basketball coach at the United States Naval Academy. He received this title after being the head coach at Colgate University, and Davis started her high school teaching career once the family moved from Oklahoma into the Arnold, Maryland, area. Her three sons — Emmett, Shane and Brendan — are former or current collegiate athletes. Emmett played football at the Naval Academy, Shane played football at Lafayette College, and Brendan currently plays basketball at Salisbury University. Some of Davis’ current AVID student-athletes say their teacher’s dedication to supporting her sons’ athletic accomplishments, and the details she shared with students about her sons’ experiences, has helped her establish a special bond with current student athletes in her classes.
Juniors Mari Hayes and Donovan Boyer are members of the football team at Broadneck.
“I come to Mrs. Davis all day, every day,” Hayes said. “You can talk to her about personal stuff, anything. On the field, I know she’s motivated me before my games. … But she definitely stays on my grades too and makes sure that you’ll go to your teachers and get what you need to get done.”
Boyer said, “She’s really helped me throughout my recruitment process for football and lacrosse. You know, just giving me tips, since she’s been through all this stuff before. So, she knows what happens, and what needs to get done. She’s really just been like a guide for me, all throughout high school. And she was the one that motivated me to choose the major that I want to pursue in college.”
Davis is proud that her entire 11-year teaching career has been in Anne Arundel County.
“My inspiration changes daily, really with trying to meet the needs of the students,” Davis said. “And as time changes, so does my manner in which I try to help the students … Much more emphasis now on social skills and communication skills, bouncing back from COVID. All educators are seeing a lack of communication skills in the students. So that’s been a big focus of mine.”
The beauty of the AVID program, Davis said, is that it allows her to team-build and collaborate with students.
“And that’s where I really see the biggest growth in the students,” she said.
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