Madera Unified School District, Sierra Vista School and Sierra Vista Teacher Bill Coate will receive the Golden Bell Award today from the California School Boards Association during its Awards Luncheon at the Marriott Hotel in San Francisco.
The award was won in the History/Social Science Curriculum for the Madera Method: Learning Through Research program under Coate's direction.
The Madera Method engages students in discovery through hands-on research.
"We start each school year in a cemetery," Coate said. "We purpose to write a biography, and to become published authors by the end of the school year. We use as our subject somebody in the cemetery."
Finding the subjects in cemeteries is only the first step, he said.
"Once the subject has been chosen, then the students are taken through the tough-minded process of historical research that results in a hard-cover publication."
Using old documents and modern research technology, the students "enhance their education by turning the dead past of the living into the living past of the dead," wrote Sierra Vista Vice Principal Sherri Defina in a memo about the award.
One of the end results of the year's work is a book, Coate said — a book on which the students do most of the work.
"We do the research, we do the writing, we do the typesetting, we do the binding," he said.
For the past 15 years, the printing has been done by Rudy Printing. Part of the cost of the book is borne by the school district, and part by the Madera County Historical Society.
Coate, born in St. Petersburg, Fla., came to California as an airplane mechanic in the Air Force in the early 1960s. While in the Air Force he met his wife, Mary. After leaving the Air Force, he became a grocer, and later entered college. As a college student, he said, teaching was not his occupational choice.
"I wasn't going to be a teacher at all," he said. "I was interested in philosophy, I was interested in theology. I was most interested in history. But I had a wife and two children to feed."
So, when he graduated magna cum laude from Pasadena Nazarene College, with a bachelor's degree in history, he headed for Chowchilla Elementary School District, where he took a job as an 8th grade social studies teacher.
From 1974 to 1980, he was principal and superintendent at the Spring Valley School District. In 1980, he joined the Madera Unified School District, where he taught 6th grade and 8th grade until 1993. He then taught in Salida and Fresno, returning to Sierra Vista School in 1996, where he has been since.
For Coate, history has been the chosen method of engaging the interests of students.
"History is my love," he said. "I have found history can be the vehicle for really exciting people."
Coate writes a weekly history article and column for The Madera Tribune, for which he also is a part-time reporter. He has written articles for Texas Historian, California Historian and Our Children, The National PTA Magazine. He has been featured in several articles about teaching.
Other honors and awards include National History Teacher of the Year, from Daughters of the American Revolution; California Teacher of the Year finalist; the Galland Award for Innovative Teaching from the California Historical Society; the O'Flaherty Teaching Award from the Historical Society of Southern California; and was one of 39 Disney Company American Teacher Award nominees.
In 1984, he earned a master's degree, summa cum laude with distinction, from Fresno State University. And, he is a broadcast personality for KMPH, Channel 26, Fresno, where he has a weekly program on history, "Twists in Time," which is broadcast Saturday evenings at 10:30 p.m.
He and Mary have a son, a daughter and six grandchildren.
"The Golden Bell Award promotes excellence in education by recognizing outstanding programs in school districts," wrote Defina. "The goal of this awards program is to contribute to the development and evaluation of curriculum, instruction and support services."