The only New Jersey teacher to be named one of 72 second-round finalists in Microsoft’s 2011 US Innovative Education Forum was not even in a classroom five years ago. But Fanwood resident Kim Leegan is rapidly proving that the legal profession’s loss is students’ gain. A successful attorney for 12 years, Leegan recently completed her fourth year at in Scotch Plains and teaches honors World Studies, Advanced Placement U.S. History and Mock Trial. She also serves as the moderator of Student Council and other clubs.
Originally from Bayonne, Leegan graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., with a B.A. in government. She graduated magna cum laude from Seton Hall Law School in 1995. Leegan clerked for Marie L. Garibaldi on the state Supreme Court, and then practiced law in New Jersey from 1996 to 2007.
“I loved law school and practicing law, but I found that it was difficult to balance having a family and working in litigation,” she said. “As a litigation attorney, it is very difficult to be in control of your schedule – emergent situations often arise. My father had been an attorney and I always loved hearing about the work he did. Both of my brothers are also attorneys. While in law school, I served as a group tutor and even after law school, I worked as an adjunct legal research and writing professor at Seton Hall.”
Leegan earned her teaching certification via the state’s “alternate route” program. Her husband, Michael, is an attorney. The couple has an 11-year-old son, Michael, and 9-year-old daughter, Cara. Leegan said that her family factored heavily into her choice to leave law, which she described as one of her first loves, for teaching.
“The decision to transition into teaching was really a combination of a long-held desire to teach and a desire to have more flexibility and time with my family,” Leegan said. “The reality is that I work as many hours as a teacher as I did as a lawyer, but I have much more control of the schedule and can be around much more for my children. I still keep my New Jersey law license active and really feel with classes like Mock Trial, that I am using my law degree, but just in a different way.”
Leegan added that she almost pursued a career in education shortly after graduating Wesleyan University. “When I was in college, I took a number of education classes, was a teaching assistant and thought about going into teaching but ultimately decided that I wanted to pursue a career in law,” she said.
Leegan caught the attention of Microsoft's Education Forum by how she integrated computers into her lessons. “The school leaders selected to attend IEF are the best in the nation at incorporating technology into their classroom curricula to enhance each lesson and really break through with students,” Andrew Ko, senior director, U.S. Partners in Learning, Microsoft, said in a statement. “It is inspiring to see these educators use technology to get students excited about learning and connected to the issues impacting their lives while developing the skills they will need for a successful future.”
Every Union Catholic student purchases a laptop upon enrolling at the school and Leegan ensures that those in her classroom maximize the devices' potential. She writes and saves notes on a digital dry-erase board called a "Smart Board," students take notes and complete assignments on Microsoft Word and One Note, they conduct research via online encyclopedias and find books through the school library's online catalogue, and they present their findings through Microsoft PowerPoint and Publisher.
Leegan entered the Microsoft competition by submitting a project she called "Adopt a Country," which she introduced to her World Studies students in September. Each student selected a country, then conducted independent research about that country throughout the year. Students kept a weekly electronic journal about their work, which included using Word and One Note. The program helps familiarize students with their laptops, and teaches them how to properly conduct online research and cite sources.
In the first few weeks, students were given short research assignments to complete by using Microsoft's Encarta Encyclopedia and other online resources. These were followed by two slightly longer research projects, and a longer "Passport Project" Students used Microsoft Publisher to create a pamphlet or book about their adopted countries. The books addressed seven topics: each country's key city, featured leader, primary religion, food, music, language, geography and climate.
Once students finished assembling the booklets, they shared their information by undertaking a “virtual tour around the world.” While half the class manned booths that represented their countries, the other half strolled through the booths, learning about their classmates' countries and projects. The project essentially presented students the opportunity to digest what they learned by teaching their peers.
“My students are the best teachers," Leegan said. "These kids grew up with computers and it is second nature to them I often design a project that requires the use of technology and the students so often surpass my expectations.”
As a finalist in the Microsoft Innovation Education Forum, Leegan will travel to Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Wash., in July.