by Michelle Hiskey
How does a disadvantaged student overcome to succeed in American society? Seeking answers, researchers interviewed Beverly Armento, who rose from poverty through help from educators.
Teachers helped Beverly Armento believe in herself, and she was so inspired that she became one, too. She went into academia to have an even greater impact by educating teachers who are knowledgeable and who believe in the power of each child to be effective and successful in life.
After almost 30 years on faculty at Georgia State University, she recently made a bequest to the GSU College of Education to support "the preparation of outstanding and caring educators."
"Making a will was a profound process for me that made me think of what I have and where I want it to go," said Armento, who kept all of her report cards as souvenirs of her education and teachers. "Through that process, I decided to pay it back. In a sense, I got my whole education because of people who taught me, and I am who I am today because of the influence of those teachers."
Achieving success after childhood spent in poverty, Armento became one of the subjects of the 1997 book, "Paths to Success: Beating the Odds in American Society," by Charles C. Harrington and Susan K. Boardman (Harvard University Press). The authors concluded that for “path makers” such as Armento, teachers provided structure and encouragement not readily available from any other source. Love and rules, they wrote, help a child believe "that one could still exert control over one's life outcomes."
At GSU, through a funding option called a virtual endowment, Armento can see the impact of her funding now in the College of Education's Department of Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology, which she formerly chaired.
The first Armento Doctoral Awards were given earlier this year to Sarah Mantegna and Erika Bullock.
"Your generosity has made a difference in my life, and mirrors the way teachers make a difference in the lives of their students," Mantegna wrote to Armento in a thank you note.
Bullock, a former high school teacher in metro Atlanta, anticipates finishing her Ph.D. in 2013 in the field of mathematics education. She has worked with GSU's Academy for Future Teachers, which encourages urban high school students from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue careers as math and science teachers. She is also a research fellow in the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Education Excellence.
Funding empowered Armento's opportunities in higher education. No one in her family had gone to college. In high school, she took career and vocational tests, "and all of a sudden I was going to be a teacher," she said. "I never thought of that before, or of going to college."
A Rotary Club scholarship help pay her way to a bachelor's degree in education from Paterson State (N.J.) Teachers College, where she also worked to help support her family.
"I couldn’t wait to have my own classroom," she said. "Teaching was the most wonderful thing I ever imagined. I wanted to be everything that teachers had been for me."
Later, federal funding from the National Defense Education Act paid for her master's degree in economics education from Purdue University. She received a doctorate in social studies education from Indiana University and started at GSU as an assistant professor of social studies education.
Over the years, her research and writing focused on culturally responsive and effective teaching methods, and teaching educators in those methods. She received the Alumni Distinguished Professor Award in 1985 and Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award in 1994.
Armento’s leadership helped the COE and GSU grow strategically in the field of education, said Paul Alberto, interim dean for the College of Education.
"Beverly Armento was chair of the Department of Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology for a number of years, during which time she oversaw that department's growth and its incorporation of numerous academic disciplines," he said. "She was also the director of the Center for Business and Economic Education [at GSU's J. Mack Robinson College of Business], which was one of the first centers to emphasize economic education for students in K–12 schools. Dr. Armento continues to maintain strong ties with the College of Education, particularly in her support of academic achievement through the Beverly J. Armento Doctoral Awards."
Since retiring from GSU in 2003, Armento has continued teaching, learning and giving back. Her volunteer work at Refugee Family Services earned her the 2011 Refugee Champion designation. She also mentors Ph.D. students at GSU.
"Dr. A has been invaluable to me in my pursuit of a doctoral degree at Georgia State," said Audrey Schewe. "Not only is she a fantastic professor and dedicated mentor, but also an exemplar of excellence in social studies education. Her passion for education and for the students she takes under her wing is awe-inspiring. She is always eager to discuss my latest triumphs or challenges and encourage me to stay focused. She is that special type of coach who motivates players to exceed their expectations."
In Fall 2011, she traveled to Maryland to thank the teachers who worked alongside her in one of her first classrooms. "So many teachers never know the impact they have on kids' lives," she said. "It's real important to let them know that."
She also visited former middle school students in Florida, who came from families employed in circuses and professional baseball, among other industries.
"Because of her, I never lost my vision of what I could become," said Lewis F. Collins Jr., a trial attorney in Tampa. "I went on to law school and have been a lawyer now for over 33 years. My passion for the law was ignited in sixth grade civics and still burns within me, thanks to Ms. Armento."
Another Florida student, Melody Wheat, agreed. "Beverly Armento is one of those people who remains lodged in the part of my brain that houses my favorite memories," she said. "It was so awesome to reunite with her and share how she'd influenced me and other students from my sixth grade class in Sarasota some 48 years ago. She was the kind of teacher that made everything an adventure, and I couldn’t wait to get to school to see what new adventure we'd be going on. She made learning fun, and isn’t that what makes for a great teacher?"
Armento's memoir manuscript, "The Beating," won second place in the Atlanta Writers Club Spring 2012 Writing Contest. "It's a cliché, but that struggle made me the person I am today," she said. "People are resilient, more than you know, and come out of really awful situations and create wonderful lives for themselves. I think every day is a gift and is wonderful, and that each is day is something to be joyous and thankful for."