September 1999: Vol. 78, No. 4

Spelling success

Georgia's first National Teacher of the Year is a male kindergarten teacher—and an ex-Marine who thinks school should be fun!

By Jena McGregor

Recipe for a successful kindergarten teacher: combine a Marine's sense of discipline with the passion of a seasoned educator and the panache of a wanna-be Broadway star. Add a pinch of a father's affection and what you end up with is National Teacher of the Year Andy Baumgartner, who has devoted the last 20 years of his life to working with children.

Baumgartner (BSEd '76) entertained these Royston Elementary students with skits starring teachers dressed in funny clothes.
Baumgartner was, in fact, a Marine, and he knows that survival skills can also be very important in the classroom. He's been an actor, and he transfers his love for the stage to his students. He's also a father with two children who have learning disabilities, so he understands the frustrations many parents face.

"The one rule I always use to evaluate what I'm going to do in class is to say to myself, 'Is this the way I'd want a teacher to deal with my son?'" says Baumgartner (BSEd '76), who teaches at A. Brian Merry Elementary School in Augusta. "When children meet with failure at a very early age—and continue to meet with failure—a pattern gets established that can be close to impossible to disrupt."

Baumgartner, also the 1999 Georgia Teacher of the Year, was chosen by representatives from the 15 leading national education organizations to become the first Georgian to be National Teacher of the Year. He is taking a year off from teaching to be a national spokesperson for education.

Invited to an assembly at Royston Elementary School this spring, Baumgartner asks four teachers to climb into a cardboard box with him, don shower caps, hold rubber duckies, and recite the Shel Silverstein poem "Crowded Tub." He has another group of students and teachers act out "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," casting the school principal as Baby Bear. He dresses teachers in baseball caps and sunglasses, turns the boombox up loud, and presents them to the audience: "Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Old Spice."

The point of his little show? "For very young children, the reason is not that this is what you're going to need to grow up and be successful. They can't look that far ahead. It's that school is a wonderful place to be where I feel whole and accepted, where I learn and I meet with success, and where I have fun."

Actually, the point doesn't matter. The Royston students—always eager to laugh at the expense of their teachers—are having a good time. School feels fun. School feels safe.

But while Baumgartner is performing, he knows what most people in the room don't—that only an hour before the assembly started there had been another school shooting, and this time close to home, in Conyers. He also knows what it feels like to be in Washington, the day after President Clinton recognized him as National Teacher of the Year on national television, and hear about the tragedy in Colorado. He knows that what he's doing just might help prevent future Conyers and Columbines. In that sense, the smiles and the laughter at Royston Elementary suddenly seem all the more important.

Will "Tricky's Last Treat" do the trick?

Lorrell Manning hopes his next independent film will establish him as an up-and-coming movie director

By Andy Battaglia

The recurrent theme in Manning's films is youthful ostracism shown through a comic lens.
You may never see it on the silver screen, but K. Lorrell Manning's artistic debut was a project he now refers to as "Funky Grandma and Grandpa." The precocious 10-year-old's production drew great praise, but the critics—cousins held captive in Manning's bedroom—were less than formidable.

Now a 27-year-old filmmaker-actor in New York, Manning (BFA '92) continues to be lauded, albeit by a more discerning audience. "Gumdrop Junkies," a thesis project for his master's degree from Columbia University, was a finalist in last year's Heart of Film Festival in Austin, Texas, and raised brows at the Ralph Lauren New Works Festival in New York. And "Aftermath," a film in which Manning played the lead role, was screened nationwide on the BET network.

Manning's success now has him shoring up funds for "Tricky's Last Treat," a feature film about a popularity-seeking high school kid who, as Manning says, "accidentally becomes a Christ-like figure." The script revisits Manning's recurrent theme of tragic youthful ostracism shown through an absurdist comic lens.

"Childhood was such a traumatic time for me," he says, "but this kind of work can be a kind of therapy. I'm trying to comment on all kinds of things going on in society, but I try to do it through comedy. When you're being hit over the head with a message, it's too easy to divorce yourself from what's going on."

A hyper-creative child who dreamed up characters in his bedroom, Manning earned statewide accolades as a high school playwright in Spartanburg, S.C. He came to UGA bent on stage stardom, and while a student he founded the current incarnation of the Black Theatrical Ensemble. Discouraged by a professor's harsh assessment of his acting skills during a stage argument, Manning turned inward, devoting all of his attention to his writing. The professor would apologize years later, but not before Manning's writing talents and a carthartic viewing of Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" had switched his focus from stage to screen.

"I was drawn to film because it's a way to completely manipulate your story," he says. "In theater, the story leaves your hands once the actors are on stage. In film, the end product is your vision. You have some control all the way through."

Manning still takes acting classes, but his sights are set on breaking into an independent film world that becomes less independent by the day. His scripts, even ones he describes as "dark, cry-your-eyes-out-type stuff," have drawn notice from studios. As for "Tricky's Last Treat," which he likens to youthful but smart films like "Election" and "Rushmore." Money is tight in the increasingly competitive film world, but he says making movies requires a special brand of hope.

"I believe a good story is going to find its way," he says. "You have to believe because, if you start doubting that, then comes the beginning of your downfall."

Andy Battaglia (ABJ '97) is a New York writer.

First woman to receive degree was an activist for women's rights

Julia Flisch helped pave the way for coeducation at UGA in 1918

By Wally Eberhard

Women weren't allowed to attend UGA in 1899 when Julia Flisch received her honorary master's degree. She eventually earned two degrees from the University of Wisconsin, then returned to Augusta to teach, write, and speak out on behalf of women's role in society.
The University's commencement 100 years ago was a bittersweet moment for Julia A. Flisch, a 38-year-old Georgia native who, on June 21, 1899, became the first woman in UGA history to receive a degree.

Flisch was a graduate of the Lucy Cobb Institute and a women's rights activist. But her honorary master of arts was no doubt tainted in her mind by a Board of Regents decision made the day before she received her degree. Meeting on campus, the regents turned down a request from the Georgia Federation of Women's Clubs that women be admitted to the University.

The Atlanta Constitution reported that the regents committee which studied the proposal was opposed to it because it would "entail a large and unnecessary expense . . . the board does not deem it wise at this juncture to agitate this question."

The story also reported that the regents thought women were already well served by the State Normal School in Athens and the Georgia Normal and Industrial School in Milledgeville. The regents also pointed out that UGA's summer school classes were open to both men and women. Given this stance, why would the regents choose to honor Flisch, an avowed feminist?

"It was either in recognition for her work as an early voice for women's education or an acknowledgment of her literary work," says Robin Harris, who teaches history at Georgia College and State University. "Flisch's philosophy about women in society came down to one word: choices. Everything should be open to them."

Born in Augusta in 1861 to immigrant parents, Flisch was raised in Athens. Her father operated a flourishing bakery downtown and served in the Confederate army. She was an honor graduate at Lucy Cobb, and was encouraged to apply for admission to UGA—though the outcome must have seemed pre-ordained. Coeducation wasn't instituted at the University until World War I.

Flisch spent two years in business education training in New York, and returned to join the faculty of Georgia Normal when it opened in 1890. She was the lone female who spoke when the cornerstone was laid. She eventually earned two degrees at the University of Wisconsin, where she studied under two of the great historians of the time, Ulrich B. Phillips and Frederick Jackson Turner. She turned down faculty positions in the Midwest to return to Augusta, where she continued to teach, write, and speak out on behalf of women's role in society. Flisch retired in 1936 and died five years later. Her obituary in the Augusta Chronicle summed up her life:

"She did more than any other person to advance the cause of women's education in the State of Georgia, and it is largely due to her that the University of Georgia is open to women today."

Wally Eberhard is a professor in the College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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