Clare Shubert was a 2015 top-five finalist for Michigan Association of Public School Academies’ Teacher of the Year. Photo by Michael Buck
Clare Shubert never expected her career as an educator would involve so much time in a hard hat, but since December, that’s been a regular feature of her wardrobe.
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation hired Shubert at the end of last year to serve as director of engagement and programming for the new DeVos Learning Center, which will be unveiled June 7 along with the reopening of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, which has been undergoing a major renovation to its exhibit space during the past year.
In her new role, Shubert is in charge of developing a curriculum for students in first through 12th grades that draws on many of the most poignant experiences of former President Gerald R. Ford’s life.
Shubert said the DeVos Learning Center curriculum is a character-based curriculum.
“The idea is, we have our kids in school more hours a day than they see their parents, and it falls on us as educators to make sure we aren’t just teaching them academics but that we are helping to shape their character and helping them to make the right choices,” Shubert explained.
The Ford Museum offers a particularly unique opportunity to pair character education with traditional academic learning.
“Each program pairs a character trait with an event in history or an aspect of President Ford or Mrs. Ford’s life,” Shubert said. “We might talk about integrity and how it plays into our decision making. We would explore that using the museum exhibits as our resource.”
For instance, Shubert said while playing football at the University of Michigan, Ford witnessed one of his teammates being discriminated against during a football game because of his skin color.
“He wasn’t allowed to play a football game because Georgia Tech still subscribed to Jim Crow laws, and it was a shaping experience for Ford to see his friend being treated unfairly,” Shubert said.
She said the students will learn about this experience and be asked to think about how Ford reacted to the experience and how it shaped him later in life when he was voting on the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.
“So, taking a really difficult situation and keeping his integrity about him and fueling that into something positive later,” Shubert explained.
Shubert said students will be provided with top-of-the-line technology while visiting the DeVos Learning Center, which will allow them to interact with the exhibits, redefining what a field trip to the Ford Museum looks like.
“It’s not a silent tour. It’s going to be dynamic and interactive,” she explained. “They can go out into the exhibits and use iPads to take pictures, make their own timelines, create their own biographies, using apps we have.”
Shubert’s experience with character-based curriculum began while she was working as a teacher for West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science, a charter school managed by Choice Schools Associates.
“They wanted a character education curriculum that was consistent through all of their schools that are statewide, and they wanted teacher ownership over that program. They had several teachers working together to develop it.”
Shubert eventually was asked to become the coordinator for the program, a role that involved training other teachers.
Shubert said character-based education is not new, but it’s been gaining traction.
“There is a big movement in schools around positive behavior support,” she said. “Instead of ‘don’t run’ and ‘don’t lie to me,’ it’s ‘walk in the halls’ and ‘be honest’ — with the emphasis on positive language and on being good role models.
“It creates a need for some sort of cohesive program where we are using the same language and approach.”
Shubert said balancing character curriculum with traditional academic learning is important.
She said the group of teachers working on the project for Choice Schools created a library of books and accompanying activities that teachers could utilize in their lessons. “So when they are reading, they are reading literature that is rich in character, and when they are writing, they are writing about their reflection of their understanding of that.”
Shubert said by the end of the year, the goal is for students to have a common understanding of various character traits.
“It’s done a lot of nice, positive things for school culture, spirit and morale,” she said. “It’s been really successful.”
While Shubert was working for West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science, she was named a top five Michigan Association of Public School Academies finalist for Teacher of the Year 2015. She was recognized for creating lessons for her students that took their thinking outside of the classroom and used real-world examples.
“That was a big recognition,” she said.
Shubert said she has always wanted to have a positive impact on students and their families through her work.
“I always wanted to work with kids and be a teacher,” she said.
She noted two incidents that occurred while she was growing up that steered her in that direction.
The first was when her cousin was born prematurely and lost her eyesight as part of the treatment to save her life.
“She has been completely blind for most of her life,” Shubert said. “Now, she is a very intelligent and high-functioning adult. Being there through that experience and seeing the different people who helped her and my aunt through that experience, I wanted to be that person for someone’s mom.”
Shubert said the other experience happened while she was a high school tutor for a student who was struggling to get into high school because of her grades. Because the student’s parents didn’t speak English, Shubert approached the high school administrators on the girl’s and her parents’ behalf and convinced them to admit her.
She said the family was so grateful, and she realized she’d made a difference.
“Those two experiences made me want to fulfill that role and go into special education,” she said.
Shubert received a full-ride scholarship to Aquinas College, where she enrolled in the education program in the area of conductive education.
“Conductive education is a philosophy that comes from Budapest, Hungary,” Shubert said. “It is a very specialized methodology for working with kids who have central nervous system damage. Cerebral palsy and spina bifida are the two most common disabilities we would see there.
“It is a very comprehensive approach to their education and habilitation, teaching them physical skills like walking, crawling, talking and eating, and also learning the academic skills like their ABCs.”
The Conductive Learning Center in Grand Rapids is affiliated with Aquinas College’s education program, so Shubert was able to gain a lot of firsthand experience through the center, and following graduation landed her first teaching job there.
Shubert said when she left special education for a traditional classroom, it was a difficult decision, as was deciding to leave a full-time classroom role for the DeVos Learning Center position, but she said each move has fit with the growing needs of her family and her desire to be able to devote more of her energy to her daughters.
Shubert said she is eager to take off her hard hat for the last time and welcome students into the DeVos Learning Center’s three classrooms and lead them through the curriculum she’s designed.