ALEXANDRIA, VA: MARCH 31, 2011 – ThinkFun cofounders and Alexandria residents Bill Ritchie and Andrea Barthello were honored at the 11th Annual CARE Awards (Commonwealth Academy Recognition for Educators Awards), held at the Hilton Alexandria Old Town. Also honored were Alexandria educators Mercedes Huffman and Katie Theobald, as well as Commonwealth Academy alumni who had recently received undergraduate degrees. Political pundits and former Commonwealth Academy parents James Carville and Mary Matalin hosted the evening. Mayor William Euille and Councilman Rob Krupicka were also in attendance. The evening was a testament to the critical difference that strong partnerships between community, family, and public and private schools can make in the success of our city’s youth.
Head of School Dr. Susan Johnson presented this year’s Leadership Award to Bill Ritchie and Andrea Barthello who, for more than two decades, have brought to market numerous games that naturally inspire learning, spark creativity, and build problem solving through play. In their keynote speech, they gave a brief history of the company, and their passion for making learning fun. “We realized early on,” said Barthello, “that we could create great challenging games, but if they weren’t fun, no one would buy them.” The struggle in bringing games and puzzles to the market is to find the right balance as perfected with their first big hit, RushHour, which, as Barthello notes “provides serious challenges that are really magical.” The Ritchie-Barthello team finds its inspiration from “teachers, scientists, mathematicians, and wacky people from all over the world,” as well as their own children. Ritchie noted, “Through our own children, we learned to use games to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.” And, their son, Sam, developed MathDice Mania as a pre-teen. Now, over 22 Arlington public schools compete in a MathDice tournament each year. Educators also play a role in their games. “Teachers started telling us things, and we are listening to teachers,” said Barthello. An education delegation from Singapore spent a week with ThinkFun to look at their games. Ritchie noted that they are guided by process over content. “Today’s general education puts content over process,” he noted, but students are more successful when they “develop habits and tools that can help [them] solve problems…develop good habits of the mind. Education should be child-centered and experiential.”
Impressed with Commonwealth Academy’s program, Mr. Ritchie has visited the school twice this year and explored firsthand how the students play with and learn from ThinkFun games in the school’s unique Visual Learning and Strategy Lab, a daily class for lower school students. “Math is a higher level academic skill based on underlying thinking abilities and conceptual understanding,” says Lower School teacher Maria Brinza. “The lab provides a developmental foundation for math, building the scaffolding that supports mathematical reasoning. Playing ThinkFun games supports the procedural and conceptual understanding of math so students can apply sequencing, visual thinking skills, and problem solving strategies to solve everyday math problems. Another by-product is that self-confidence grows because students are using their own intelligence to solve problems.”
Mayor Euille presented this year’s CARE Award for an outstanding educator to TC Williams High School math teacher Mercedes Huffman. Ms. Huffman has been a valued member of the TC Williams faculty for 12 years, dedicated to ELL and special needs students. While teaching a full schedule, she is co-director of the Math Center and works with students of all levels to find the most appropriate methods of teaching to meet their learning needs. She is also active in the community, coordinating a tutoring and SAT program at her church, designed for a range of students in the metropolitan area.
Dr. Johnson named Katie Theobald of Alexandria the Commonwealth Academy Teacher of the Year for her work as chair of the science department, science teacher, and the after school program coordinator. She noted that Ms. Theobald was instrumental in preparing C/A students to lead and host The Great American Energy Debate Leadership Workshop earlier this year, and serves as an outstanding role model to both students and peers with her enthusiasm for and dedication to lifelong learning. She is currently working on her masters in science education and will serve as project coordinator in Thailand this summer for a five-week high school program, The Plight of the Thai Elephant.
Dr. Johnson also honored seven Alumni Achievers who recently graduated from college: Steven Buoni ’04 (BA, Randolph Macon); Lily Stejskal ’04 (BA, Mary Baldwin College); Marshall Braden ’05 (BA, Lynn University); J.R. Clark ’05 (BA, George Mason University); Daniel Dewey-Vogt ’05 (BS Lynchburg College); Brian Dooley ’06 (BA, McDaniel College); and Barnaby Katz ’06 (BA, College of Wooster).
Proceeds from the dinner benefit Commonwealth Academy, an independent coeducational college preparatory day school in Alexandria, VA for average to superior students in Grades 3–5 who benefit from small classes and instruction designed to address various learning styles, including those students who have organizational, attention, or learning differences.
For more information, visit www.CommonwealthAcademy.org.