Hartford Teacher Rebekah Dostie ’20 Named 2023 Recipient of Wright Award

Gordon College names Rebekah Dostie ’20 the fourth recipient of the annual Margaret C. Wright Memorial Award. The Wright Award honors a Gordon graduate who is making a difference in an underserved community through education by providing funding for their personal educational pursuits and the school where they teach. 

At the start of the school year, just two of the 22 first-graders in Rebekah Dostie’s classroom at Noah Webster MicroSociety Magnet School in Connecticut were at grade level. The other 20 students had yet to learn to read, count or write—the standard knowledge level for their peers around the country. 

It was Dostie’s first year in a public school—ever. Dostie ’20 was homeschooled in Connecticut and began her teaching career at a private Catholic school, but always had her sights set on public school. “I see what a privilege it was for me to be homeschooled in that it developed a love of learning and a desire to constantly be growing in some way,” she says. “I wanted to be able to cultivate that in other children, to give a very hands-on approach to learning that I got to have as a child.”

Dostie’s call to teach—and specifically to teach within Hartford, Connecticut, public schools—crystalized when she volunteered as a teen with her church’s AWANA children’s club, which served kids from Hartford. “I always had in mind to go into Hartford public schools,” she says, “just knowing the need for teachers there to come in and love the children who come to those schools.”

Today she’s doing just that in one of the 39 schools in the Hartford public school district, which serves 17,000 students, more than 60 percent of whom are considered economically disadvantaged, according to U.S. News and World Report.

“Children are coming into school with a lot of other things on their mind than being ready to learn,” Dostie explains. Some are struggling to speak English, others have experienced trauma and instability, and many have parents working multiple jobs or lacking reliable transportation. These factors impact students’ availability for learning in the classroom and also limit access to educational experiences outside the classroom.

“We had to cancel one of our field trips this past year because it was going to come down to $11 per kid, and that just isn’t doable for a lot of families,” she explains. Experiences like the aquarium, the zoo and even the splash pad are often out of reach for her students, but are important for building background knowledge to help connect with what they’re reading in school. With Wright Award funding, these experiences will be possible for Dostie’s students. 

Field trips, she says, are a bright spot in what can be a challenging teaching environment. So is the month of March: “March is this beautiful time because you really start to see a catapult of growth in a lot of kids.” The student who could only write single letters is now stringing together sentences. The other who was severely behind in math and reading is now able to keep pace with her classmates. And this year, every student in Dostie’s classroom increased their screening scores, which assess grade-level learning goals, by 55 percent by the end of the year.

Understanding the science of reading, for which Gordon’s education program has been nationally recognized, made all the difference for Dostie in nurturing her classroom’s growth. “Being taught how to use a systematic approach to teaching phonics is necessary when you’re working with a lot of children who are not excelling. Thanks to my experience in the classroom at Gordon, and specifically phonics instruction from Dr. Priscilla Nelson, I have the experience level equal to veteran teachers. I’m so thankful for that.”

It’s a huge part of why Dostie can look back on this first year with pride and say, “They did it. There was so much growth. I’ve done my job well and I can move them on to the next teacher.”