Bronx teachers nab excellence awards

Malik Ketchum grew up in the south Bronx. Brooke Nixon-Friedheim grew up in Iowa. Ketchum is a first-year teacher, Nixon-Friedheim a fourth-year vet. Both are NYC Teaching Fellows and both recently nabbed classroom awards for excellence. Ketchum teaches math at J.H.S. 118 William W. Niles on E. 179th Street and Arthur Avenue. Nixon-Friedheim teaches math and physics at the Bronx High School for Law and Community Service on Fordham Road.

“Malik is a very talented young man,” William W. Niles assistant principal Anne Piotrowski said. “He has a wonderful rapport with students, parents and teachers.”

NYC Teaching Fellows is an alternative certification program founded in 2000 to combat a teacher shortage. The program is designed to pull professionals from other fields – scientists, brokers, painters – into the classroom. Today, 17 percent of public school teachers in the Bronx are teaching fellows.

Teaching Fellows like Ketchum and Nixon-Friedheim start work uncertified; they earn certification at night and on the weekend at NYC graduate schools. Ketchum is an attorney by trade. A veteran of Mott Haven and Highbridge public housing, Ketchum is able to share life lessons with William W. Niles students, 90 percent of whom are eligible for free lunch.

“I believe that when I help young people, I’m helping the community also,” he said.

Ketchum taught sixth, seventh and eighth graders this year, English language learners. His students hailed from Korea and Bangladesh, the Dominican and Honduras, Italy and Albania. Many spoke Spanish. Ketchum isn’t fluent in Spanish; he improvised, Piotrowski said. Thursday became “teach the teacher Spanish day.”

“What I marvel at is his ability to differentiate,” said Piotrowski. “He had three grades, three sets of curricula.”

Ketchum spent extra time at school. He participated in after-school sports and brought his wife and three daughters to a William W. Niles multicultural dinner dance. Ketchum’s eighth graders made a 58 percent jump on the state math exam, an unheard of result.

“We had a lot of fun,” Ketchum said. “We set high expectations and my students bought into it.”

Nixon-Friedheim left a research career to teach. She chose math and science because math and science teachers are few and far between. She lives in University Heights.

“I like being able to turn promise in students into success,” Nixon-Friedheim said.

One of her students entered the Bronx High School for Law and Community Service in trouble…poor grades and an unstable living situation. She recently completed AP Physics and is headed to City College in the fall. Nixon-Friedheim enjoys teaching math and science because there are absolute answers. Math and science problems are fun. Half of the teachers at the Bronx High School for Law and Community Service are Teaching Fellows.

Four teachers, including Ketchum, nabbed classroom excellence awards. Eight teachers, including Nixon-Friedheim, Jason Leon of Lehman High School, Kathryn Selkirk of the Donald Hertz School, Gina Sandu of the Elementary School for Math, Science & Technology and Jacqueline Pryce-Harvey of Crotona Park West, were named finalists.

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