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Elizabeth Walbridge '03 Wins Distinguished Alumni Award

by Elizabeth Lightfoot
Alumni Relations Director

The Country School is thrilled to present the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award to Elizabeth Walbridge '03, a teacher-turned-digital-media producer who combines her own love of learning with a desire to inspire, engage, and transform the next generation through intriguing content and innovative, interactive technology.

Since 2016, Elizabeth has been working at WGBH, Boston's PBS partner, where she serves as associate producer in digital children's media. Currently, she is working under an ongoing grant from NASA to produce interactive content for PBS Learning Media. These games teach students about Earth Science, Phases of the Moon, and Earth and its rotation (and you can even hear Elizabeth as a narrator). For PBS Kids, she is working on Molly of Denali, which will launch this summer with a series of new episodes and games featuring the adventures of an Alaska native girl named Molly. Ultimately, Elizabeth is interested in helping to make children creators of media, not just consumers. She would also love to find ways to improve literacy rates among vulnerable groups and increase support for girls and women in STEM fields.

Elizabeth, who graduated from Boston University in 2011 with a BFA in Theatre Arts and a BA in English and received her Ed.M. in 2016 from Harvard's Graduate School of Education, didn't originally set out to work in children's media. Rather, she began her professional life as a classroom teacher, teaching English and coaching softball at Phillips Academy Andover through a one-year fellowship. When that year concluded, she headed to Choate Rosemary Hall, her alma mater, where she had previously taught courses in their summer program. She remained at Choate for four years, teaching English and theater, living in a girls' dorm, and serving as an adviser. She was also a member of a faculty committee charged with supporting the school's new experiential and project-based learning curriculum, an endeavor that ultimately resulted in the school's new Cameron and Edward Lanphier Center for Mathematics and Computer Science, home to the school's i.d.Lab.

During the discovery phase of that venture, as committee members tried to imagine what Choate's innovation and design spaces could look like and how they should function, Elizabeth joined Choate colleagues for a trip to Silicon Valley, where they met leaders from and explored collaborative spaces at Google, Twitter, Pixar, and Stanford's d School. Later, she wrote and piloted Choate's first Design Thinking curriculum. (She also returned to The Country School to participate in the summer 21st Century Innovation Teacher Institute, where the focus was on STEAM and Design Thinking and where she had an opportunity to learn alongside her former teachers.)

In an article called "Design Thinking: Students Take Education in Hand" published in the spring 2014 edition of Choate's Bulletin magazine, Elizabeth wrote about her work on Choate's new endeavor.

I hope that the excitement of Design Thinking and other project-based learning continues to infuse our community with a sense of renewed purpose and possibility as we offer support to the next generation of problem solvers and risk takers. We will teach them to embrace challenges, to bounce back from failure, and to consider themselves part of a team capable of tackling even the most daunting and compelling tasks.

Her experiences with Choate's evolving curriculum inspired Elizabeth to want to explore other innovative ways to transform education, so she applied to the Graduate School of Education at Harvard, where she received her MA in Technology, Innovation, and Education. During her year in Cambridge, in addition to her academic work, she had a chance to serve as a research assistant at MIT's Media Lab and Harvard's Kennedy School, where she explored the ways they were using technology to enhance education.

When she left for graduate school in the fall of 2015, Elizabeth's intention had been to return to Choate once her year was up, but she found she was fascinated by the educational possibilities new technology could provide. One thing led to another, and before she knew it, she had been offered a job she couldn't pass up at WGBH and PBS Kids. She took the position, and she's been at it now for nearly three years.

We had fun visiting with Elizabeth at WGBH a few years ago.

Although no longer working inside a classroom herself, Elizabeth is still, in effect, a teacher, using the digital media she helps create to engage and, ultimately, teach children. As any great teacher does, she's also constantly learning herself; recently she started an online course in JavaScript and HTML/CSS. And, of course, there's everything she learns while creating children's programing for NASA or exploring the Alaskan landscape with Molly of Denali.

As we think about Elizabeth and what she is doing now, we can't help but remember a letter she sent us in 2007, just before she graduated from Choate and headed to Boston University. She had recently received a copy of Country Connections, the school alumni magazine, and said she felt compelled to write a letter (one we still count as among our favorites). Reading about The Country School had brought back so many memories, about her classmates and school traditions but mostly about her teachers and what they had meant to her.

"My teachers gave so much of themselves to me throughout my time at TCS, inspiring me to be the best that I could be," she wrote. "They taught me such incredible lessons that I will take with me forever. I could never forget the kind of passion they devoted to me during my four years. I see myself teaching in the future, and if I could be half the teacher that my TCS teachers were to me, I could change the world."

Elizabeth, pictured at right during the 5th Grade Pharaoh Fair, closed her letter with the following:

As I look at the photos of past and present students, I see myself in all of them. There are magical things happening at TCS, and I will always do whatever I can to make sure that these magical things happen forever.

Over the years, Elizabeth has returned to campus to honor her former English teacher, Jim Storms, upon his retirement and to judge the MacLane Poetry recitation. She has joined us for on-campus reunions and for an alumni gathering in Boston. We look forward to welcoming Elizabeth 'home' again on May 17, when we can celebrate her contributions to education in general and The Country school in particular. 

"We can't wait to hear more about her innovative work in technology designed to enhance education, undertakings that parallel and complement our own work in STEAM and with our new Rothberg Catalyzer," said Head of School John Fixx, referring to the school's recent $50,000 gift from the Rothberg family to enhance technology education on campus. The Country School joins Brown, Carnegie Mellon, Choate Rosemary Hall, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale as a site for a Rothberg Catalyzer (learn more).

"Elizabeth is a perfect example of the kind of person we hope our graduates will become, someone who embraces lifelong learning and who serves the common good by sharing that love of learning with others," Mr. Fixx said. "She is someone who believes in trying new things, in problem solving, collaboration, taking risks, and embracing challenges — she is the embodiment of education that lasts a lifetime. Thank you, Elizabeth, for all you do and for agreeing to be our 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient."

Elizabeth with her former English teacher Jim Storms upon his retirement.  

The Distinguished Alumni Award Ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. in DeFrancis Gymnasium. At the same time, members of the Class of 2019 will be inducted into the Alumni Association and mission-based awards will be presented to graduating students. All are encouraged to attend. For more information, contact alumni@thecountryschool.org. To learn more about the award and previous recipients, click here.