When student Jessica Roth accepted a National Guard Association scholarship two years ago from Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., a thought ran through her mind: “I need to take a selfie.”
She sent it to Patrick Kelly, her government teacher at Blythewood High School, near Columbia, S.C. “Whenever I think of anything that is from the government in a funny way, I think of him,” said Roth, now a sophomore at Winthrop University.
So when her father, Lt. Col. James Roth, heard the U.S. Department of Education was looking for teachers to be department fellows, he said Kelly “seemed like a no-brainer.” He recommended Kelly apply.
Kelly, 34, was named this month as a 2015-16 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, honored for sharing his civics passion with students such as Roth and his interest in ensuring all students have the chance to challenge themselves.
This school year, Kelly will be a federal employee part time while teaching and coaching boys’ cross country at Blythewood full time, according to the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship website. He will serve as a liaison between the department and his Blythewood coworkers, said the fellowship’s director, Gillian Cohen-Boyer.
Kelly said he is excited to learn about federal policy in order to share it with his colleagues. “The learning piece is huge,” he said.
He also wants to improve his teaching style for his Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics class. With the hands-on experience in the department, “teaching will be more authentic,” he said in a recent interview.
But the fellowship is a two-way system: Kelly also gets to voice his experience as a teacher to the department.
One of his biggest passions is providing equal opportunity for students to succeed, Kelly said. He believes it is necessary for students to “pursue rigorous opportunities” in school, such as taking AP and duel enrollment courses.
It’s hard for a student to learn about Shakespeare when they’re worried about feeding their family.
Patrick Kelly, classroom teaching ambassador fellow
But for some students, that is not easy, he said. Some face challenges that inhibit their ability to learn because of pressures outside the classroom. Poverty is one of them.
“It’s hard for a student to learn about Shakespeare when they’re worried about feeding their family,” Kelly said.
In his first blog entry for the fellowship, Kelly applauded the Department of Education for giving $28.4 million in federal grants to help students take AP exams.
The grants will assist low-income students, according to the department’s press release.
Kelly acknowledged the opportunities that South Carolinian high school students have in regards to AP exams.
“I … know my students are uniquely fortunate, as my home state of South Carolina pays the fee for each student in an AP course to take an exam,” Kelly said in his blog.
But not all states provide this benefit. Kelly said this hurts low-income students immensely.
“Currently, over 20 percent of our nation’s school-age children come from households living in poverty,” Kelly blogged. “For these children, paying the fees to take even one AP exam is simply not financially possible. However, this inability to pay does not mean these children lack the ability to thrive and succeed in rigorous coursework.”
With the fellowship, Kelly said he hopes to foster positive change in the classroom.
“If I have somehow contributed to improving the conditions of the teaching profession, that would be the biggest takeaway,” he said.
His former and current students have voiced their support.
“I know at Blythewood High School, there are more students that take his AP class than any of the other AP classes at the school,” said current student Amanda Price. “And I think that really speaks to his character, that students want to move up in the rigor of courses to be able to learn from Mr. Kelly. I think that the U.S. Department of Education could really benefit from … the way he teaches.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the rank of James Roth.