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Two Friday Medals for 2022 celebrate equity in research and practice

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One is a practitioner who is linking students with learning differences to postsecondary opportunities and STEM careers. The other is called the “father of multicultural education.” This year’s Friday Medal recipients, Joann Blumenfeld and James Banks, have one thing in common — a commitment to equity.

For the first time since 2017, the William & Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at N.C. State’s College of Education recognized multiple honorees.

“This year, we want to recognize the bridge that the Friday Institute serves in connecting researchers and practitioners, both critical to our mission of advancing educational innovation so that all learners are prepared to succeed,” said Shaun Kellogg, interim executive director of the Friday Institute.

The Friday Medal honors significant, distinguished, and enduring contributions to education and beyond through advocating innovation, advancing education, and imparting inspiration.

James Banks

Banks is a specialist in social studies and multicultural education, having written or edited more than 20 books and 100 articles in these fields.

“Known as the ‘father of multicultural education’ for his pioneering work in the field, Dr. Banks has paved the way for generations of faculty, shaping the minds of countless K-12 teachers,” said Acting Director for Program Evaluation and Education Research Callie Womble Edwards, who called Banks one of her research heroes.

Banks has received numerous scholarly awards, including the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL) 1998 Presidents’ Award, the National Council for the Social Studies 2001 Distinguished Career Research in Social Studies Award and the inaugural American Educational Research Association (AERA) Social Justice in Education Award in 2004. 

Banks also received, with Cherry A. McGee Banks, the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association for Multicultural Education. He is a past president of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA). He is an AERA Fellow and an elected member of the National Academy of Education and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

“Receiving this medal is especially appreciated because it is a source of hope and aspiration and inspiration (at a time) when teaching about race in the school and the quest for racial equality is being seriously challenged by a well-orchestrated attack on multicultural education disguised as the claim that we are teaching critical race theory,” Banks said.

James Banks (left) and Joann Blumenfeld are this year’s Friday Medal honorees. Rupen Fofaria/EducationNC

Joann Blumenfeld

Blumenfeld taught for 20 years in the Wake County Public School System, including as an exceptional children’s teacher. She developed the belief that students learn best by doing — especially students with learning differences. She also became fixated on statistics of underemployment among people with learning differences.

“Joann was determined — this is what she told me — to equip differently thinking people to make a better world,” said Jason Painter, the director of N.C. State’s Science House. “And I love that.”

Blumenfeld left the K-12 space to found the Catalyst program situated at The Science House. Catalyst is an award-winning high school program designed to create STEM opportunities for students with disabilities.

She recently launched and serves as program director of a second program, Connecting Students with Autism to Geographic Information Systems and Technology (GIST), which introduces ninth and tenth grade students to the growing field of drone piloting. 

“I appreciate this honor,” Blumenfeld said. “But the real honor goes to the Catalyst and GIST participants who continue to grow, persevere, work hard, and utilize all their wonderful skills and talents and demonstrate that innovative programs like Catalyst and GIST can be successful in STEM and help create an inclusive, diverse, and innovative STEM workforce.”

Blumenfeld has been a Kenan Fellow, a NASA Educator Ambassador, a North Carolina Science Leadership Fellow, a National Science Teachers Association Beginning Teachers Dow Fellow, a World View Global Music Fellow and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow

In 2022, she was selected by Time magazine as an Innovative Teacher.

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.