High School Teacher Achievement Award winner Ryan Davis Waggener High School Jefferson County

Ryan Davis is a mathematics teacher at Waggener High School (Jefferson County) who is passionate about creating change in his community with his students. He is a 2023 Teacher Achievement Award winner. 

In the pursuit of helping his students see the purpose and meaning of math, Davis created a unit called “Change is Gonna Come.” His students work along two tracks during this unit, the first being The Transformational Art Project. For this project, the students look at art from multiple cultures, such as Día de Muertos skulls or Ankara fabric, to see how geometric transformations are present. 

The students then create their own art that represents the idea of change, either how they have changed or wish to see change in the world. One student did a hair braid design to represent becoming closer to their family. Another student did an Islamic tile that represents their growing confidence. 

The second track allows students to learn more traditional transformations. The students have a choice of activities, whether it be solving puzzles, working on a computer or doing traditional worksheets. This allows students to learn at their own pace, but also allows Davis to support and challenge his students.  

Davis is involved in his district’s Deeper Learning and Personalized Learning initiatives. His goal is to connect his content with his students and their circumstances. For instance, his Algebra II class said they would like to learn more about taxes, so Davis used the content to teach his students something they believe is important. One group of his students even had a meeting with a state legislator to discuss issues surrounding the pink tax, which is discriminatory pricing that applies to goods and services marketed to women. 

When his school went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Davis created a chapter of the Justice Now club, a program that brings social justice causes to attention through projects. Their first virtual meeting posed the question: What difference do you want to make?  

Over time, the students put together a project called Race for Justice. It would be a marathon – 26.2 miles, a mile for each year of Breonna Taylor’s life. They wanted to run past sites in the city that showed the community’s history of working toward justice. The students envisioned each person running for their own cause, but all running in the same direction.  

“Who are you running for?” was the question.  

The club was turned into a class designed to focus on making a difference in the community. His students even got accepted to present this type of learning at the national Deeper Learning Conference in California. 

Between the conference and the race, the students raised $60,000 and donated $30,000 to nonprofits. Davis sees this event lasting for years to come, hopefully providing a similar experience for future students.