It's not every day that Newton County students get to learn from a true pioneer. But for a lucky few at Newton High School, they are being taught by a man who has been hailed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as just that, Evern Williams.
Not only do the students get a top-notch teacher, they are also the first public school class in not only the state, but the nation, to be taught the subject of epidemiology.
If the name doesn't ring a bell don't feel bad. Most of the students had no idea what the class was even about when they first heard of it. But it caught junior Amber Broughton's attention immediately.
"I did my homework," she said with a giggle. "But the name interested me immediately."
Epidemiology is the study of the causes, distribution and control of diseases in populations. But more than that, it shows how a disease can effect a community - such as the student population at NHS. The course also looks at how anything can effect a population, such as teen pregnancy, car accidents and even homicides.
"I didn't expect it to be how it is," said junior Jeremy Laguins. "It's like real stuff, real facts that I never knew and I never really thought about... It's straight from the CDC and I really like that."
From AIDS to rabies, the students are being challenged not only to think and learn, but also to discuss and debate numbers that all questioned agreed they found shocking.
"The first week we took samples around the school and put them on auger plates," said Broughton. "Just seeing how filthy the most common areas you touch every day are. Oh my God."
All of the students now carry hand sanitizer around with them at all times.
"It's really hands-on and I am a hands-on learner," said sophomore Jeffery Fallah. "...It's something new every day. I feel like I'm being taught by a college professor."
For senior Sarah Knight, the epidemiology class helps her with her goals of entering the medical field.
"I feel like this helps me get my foot in the door," she said. "...We sit in the classroom and have a debate and he's on our level. He's not talking down to us. In fact, he's told us a few times that he's astonished of what we think and how we think."
For Williams this class is 15 years in the making. He wrote the curriculum for the EXCITE! (Excellence in Curriculum Innovation through Teaching Epidemiology) program for the CDC, which is a federal teaching model. He also traveled as a consultant for them in his 20s. Born in Detroit and raised in Alabama, Williams ended up teaching middle school in Monticello by the age of 24. He had plans to go to Mercer and study pre-med when he was offered the opportunity to teach a Governor's Honors program.
"I felt there was something here that I needed to explore," he said. "...I knew I was at the beginning of a journey, but I didn't know where it would lead me."
It led him to Veterans Memorial Middle and then Newton High where he's been for the last three years. When he first approached the course to NHS, the background was already done and had been completed by Williams. The course was pushed in the direction of the Academy of Liberal Arts at Newton High School, but there are students taking the class that are not at ALANHS. Williams didn't want anyone who wanted to take it to be left out. Currently some students are being left out anyway because the class is completely full. Taught only one period a day, it's unclear if there will be more classes added next year. Williams received his pioneer award from the CDC in July and the class began at NHS on Sept. 12.
"It [the class] brings math and science to the real world," Williams explained, when asked why he was passionate about the course being taught at NHS. "One of the biggest things with education is to get people to understand that you have to apply things to the real world. Bringing the real world to the classroom is a whole different ballgame. Bringing math and science to the real world is the idea... You don't have to shove education down a person's throat. You can show them the plate and once they see it they want it. I'm not making them learn - they want to learn... Application is the key to education. If they can apply the knowledge they will do something and they will learn something. If they can't apply the knowledge, if they can't use it, it's just ink on while paper."
Williams was recently recognized by the Newton County Board of Education for his work in the class.
"This is a very rare opportunity for our students to learn about the incidence of disease, cause, and location," said Superintendent Gary Mathews. "Mr. Williams has certainly blazed a trail with this offering now offered locally and throughout other Georgia locales."
And while that means a lot to Williams, it's the honor from the CDC that he equates to winning the Super Bowl ring.
"It meant the world to me," he said.
And while he might not be a veterinarian like one of his brothers or a businessman like the other, Williams feels like he's where he's supposed to be, teaching.
"I was the one that didn't make the money because I'm a teacher. When I came to Monticello my check after taxes was $1,360 a month with a Masters. You get to a point that you don't care that you aren't going to be rich... What's more important is that I do what I can do to the best of my ability. And I'm rich in other ways... To change the mindset of kids is important. I stayed in teaching, I stayed in the classroom. A lot of people would have gone into administration but I think God puts us in positions. Because I feel like I've left a trail."