MAHG graduate wins 2023 American Civic Education Teacher Award
When she first started at Ashland University, Kimberly Huffman had many of the same experiences most freshmen have.
She called home every day the first week, often crying that she didn’t think she would make it in college.
Eventually, she realized she could handle it, loved her classes and developed lifelong friends.
“And the university’s food is the best,” Huffman said with a big smile.
However, Huffman was far from a typical student just beginning college.
She had a family with two young children, a full-time teaching job and she was working on a master’s, not a bachelor’s, degree
It had taken her seven years to earn her bachelor’s degree - the first four at Wayne College and then three years as a commuter student at the University of Akron – because the Wooster High School graduate was working full time as a waitress, taking classes when she could and not really experiencing college life.
“Finally, when I got to go to the MAHG program (Master of Arts in American History and Government), they let you stay in the dorms for a week,” said the Wayne County Schools Career Center (WCSCC) social studies teacher. “So, it was the first time I got to go to college.”
That college experience at AU a little more than a decade ago changed her career for the better, said Huffman, who has since won several teaching awards, with her most recent being a 2023 American Civic Education Teacher Award.
She was one of three teachers across the country – the other two were from California and Florida - to win a 2023 American Civic Education Teacher Award, which is sponsored by the Center for Civic Education, the Center on Representative Government at Indiana University and the National Education Association.
“We are grateful for all these teachers do to ensure that each succeeding generation understands the principles and values of our representative democracy,” said Donna Phillips, vice president and chief program officer of the Center for Civic Education, in a news release from the sponsoring organizations.
If not for getting her AU master’s degree in 2011, Huffman, who has been teaching for 29 years (all but a few of them at the WCSCC), said she probably would have burned out years ago.
“It has fueled my fire,” Huffman said. “Civic education is my passion. It’s my life.”
That’s why she is especially proud of her most recent award. It recognizes civic teachers, which she considers herself much more of than a history educator.
When she started teaching civics, Huffman said she was dependent on the textbook because her bachelor’s degree in social studies education required her to know a little bit about a lot of things and she wasn’t confident in what she was teaching. The students would tell her that she wasn’t teaching them anything they couldn’t just read on their own from the textbook, she added.
“So, 1,000% it boosted my confidence,” Huffman said about gaining a deeper understanding of American government through the MAHG program, “which made me a better teacher. I’m willing to branch out and have more discussions and student engagement. I’m not afraid of questions I’m not going to be able to answer.”
Her classroom model - less focus on a textbook and more discussions about documents, such as the Declaration of Independence – is similar to her MAHG classes.
WCSCC Superintendent Kip Crain said it’s evident to everyone who meets Huffman that she is a dedicated teacher who loves what she teaches.
“Her enthusiasm for the U.S. Constitution is contagious, and her commitment to professional growth is unsurpassed,” Crain said. “In addition to sharing her expertise with her students, Kimberly also shares her expertise with colleagues from all over the country through the numerous professional organizations she is involved with.
“We are lucky to have Mrs. Huffman as a part of our WCSCC team,” he added.
Looking back on her AU experience, Huffman said it seems crazy that she had no desire to earn a master’s degree before it.
“I didn’t do well in high school. I was not a good student and barely made it through high school,” Huffman admitted. “I was a welfare kid and the only kid of the five in my family to go to college. I decided I didn’t want to be a waitress the rest of my life so, after high school, I decided to go to college.
“Because I was the only one in my family to go to college, I thought I had reached the pinnacle by getting a bachelor’s degree,” Huffman added. “I was never going to get my master’s degree.”
Huffman changed her mind after a teacher in another school district informed her of the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation, which awards $24,000 toward graduate education to a select few individuals wanting to become outstanding teachers of the American Constitution at the secondary school level through a rigorous application process.
James Madison Foundation Fellows also spend a week in Washington, D.C., for a Constitutional Camp.
“In 2008, I won the James Madison Fellowship for Ohio,” Huffman said. “Once I won the award, I enrolled in the MAHG program because it was close to home, and it offered summer programs.
“I would highly recommend the program,” she added about MAHG. “And I highly recommend you don’t do five classes at once.”
Wanting to receive a master’s degree as quickly as possible so she could teach CCP (College Credit Plus classes, which only teachers with master’s degrees can teach), Huffman spent five weeks her first summer (2009) at AU in the MAHG program (each class is a week). That was an insanely too busy schedule, she said shaking her head in disbelief that she handled it.
“Five weeks of that summer, I would drive to Ashland on Sunday night and then went back home Friday night after the exam,” said the longtime Wooster resident. “You can live, eat, breathe and walk with your professors and the teachers who took the classes. It is like nerd camp. We all shared the same interests and stories.”
Back then, during its infancy, the MAHG program didn’t offer online classes or online tests like it does now. Huffman said she was glad for that because she got to live on campus, not only that first summer, but two weeks for another summer. Being in person allowed her to get to know her fellow students, who were teachers from across the country, better than if she had done the program online.
Huffman said she’s glad social media is such a bigger part of life now because she can stay in contact with the friends she made then, including her roommate that first summer – a now retired teacher from Idaho.
“They are so committed to supporting each other and they are lifelong friends,” Huffman said about the teachers who went through the MAHG program with her. “I have done so much since getting my master’s degree because of the connections I have made.
“It was the best thing for my career,” Huffman added with a big smile.