Amy Hoffmaster ’06 is the Fall 2015 Convocation speaker.Amy Hoffmaster ’06 is the Fall 2015 Convocation speaker.As the Deputy Director for Program Design at Citizen Schools, Amy Hoffmaster ’06 often finds herself bridging the gap between theory and practice. On the one hand, she’s pouring through research and digesting evaluative material, and on the other she’s setting schedules, developing curriculum, and managing the day-to-day reality of her group’s programs.

It’s cross-disciplinary work that could be difficult for some, but Hoffmaster said that it’s a really good fit for her – and that her College of the Atlantic education plays a huge role in that.

“I’m less fearful of or less apprehensive than some of my colleagues about drawing ideas and possible solutions from a wide space,” Hoffmaster said. “I think it just comes from having a lot of options on the table in my experience at COA.”

Hoffmaster returns to the college this week to present the keynote address for the 44th annual convocation. The ceremony is on Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. in Gates Community Center.

“I think it’s very exciting to be able to bring the perspective of what I learned about and experienced as a student at COA, and kind of connect that to the work that I do across the country now with Citizen Schools,” Hoffmaster said. “I think there’s a lot of parallels between the models and approaches, of the kind of real-world learning and authentic relationships that COA values, and the kind of model that Citizen Schools uses to provide and give opportunity to middle school kids.”

Re-imagining education

Citizen Schools aims to re-imagine the middle school experience for low-income students, ensuring that each child has the academic support, hands-on learning experiences and mentorship required to combat pervasive opportunity gaps. The group works in schools across the country; Hoffmaster is based in Boston.

As part of the national program department, Hoffmaster, who holds a master’s degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, helps provide support to school leaders and teaching staff. She is tasked with ensuring her group’s practices and approaches are in line with current thinking about how adolescents learn and connect with the world. Her job is basically to “take the big-picture thinking and decide what we do every day with the students,” she said.

Discovering educational studies

Hoffmaster came to COA interested in marine biology and studied ecology, natural history and marine sciences before she became smitten with ed studies, she said. Her interest in science had led her to an interest in brain development, and this sort of naturally segued into an interest in how children develop. Her first education courses here cemented the path she would take.

“I just thought is was really exceptional that right away students would have observation time and time to connect with students in classrooms, for their classes, not just waiting a couple of years to have some sort of practicum. I was drawn to that. At COA, you’re sort of embedded in the larger community, and end up learning so much from all of the people that you interact with on the island,” Hoffmaster said. “So I thought it was exciting to be able to connect what I was learning in classes with students who were just doing their thing in elementary schools on the island. That drew me to the program even more.”

Staying open

Being open to new experiences and to moving in new directions is one of the keys to success at a school like COA, Hoffmaster said, and it is this advice that she will share during her speech.

“I think my biggest message is that, as students are starting at COA with a lot of excitement and possibly some big ideas about what they want to learn and how they want to do it,” she said, “that they should be prepared and be opened to surprises intellectually, and be willing to go in the direction that their curiosity takes them.”