ReLeah began her teaching career in Panama City, Florida, as an English teacher at Mowat Junior High School. It was there that she met her future co-author, Gloria Pipkin, and discovered the magic of young adult literature. Although the English department was designated a Center of Excellence by National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), a much-publicized censorship battle virtually destroyed the department. Gloria and ReLeah wrote about the amazing events surrounding this censorship battle in At the Schoolhouse Gate: Lessons in Intellectual Freedom the superintendent’s ban on over 60 books, a death threat, Robert Cormier’s visit in an effort to help, the story being covered in depth by the Washington Post.
ReLeah transferred to Mosley High School in the same town, where she taught English, sponsored the school newspaper, and began an exciting team-teaching initiative with a social studies teacher, Ben Dykema. They used TIME Magazine as the core of their instruction, took the students on extended field trips, and used project-based experiences to make students’ learning relevant and meaningful. Despite the school newspaper winning national awards and the success of the team-teaching class, censorship again reared its ugly head, this time against students’ writing in the school newspaper.
For the second time in a decade, ReLeah found herself the subject of media attention as she and her students defended their First Amendment rights. After filing a Federal lawsuit on behalf of her students, the district settled, creating case law that would protect other journalism students around the country, but ReLeah would not remain sponsor of the school paper and the team-teaching class would be dissolved. That same year, 1999, ReLeah won the PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists)/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award for her efforts on behalf of her students. Her family, Gloria, and several of her students accompanied ReLeah to New York City to attend a gala sponsored by PEN and to watch ReLeah receive the award, presented by Judy Blume.
This censorship story and its aftermath make up the last half of At the Schoolhouse Gate. Soon after, ReLeah transferred to Bay High School in Panama City where she taught English, speech, and debate. Although she taught A.P. English she infused her classroom with young adult novels and text sets, insisting that learning was a process requiring resources that tapped into students’ interests. She helped establish a law academy, once again focusing on relevant, real-world learning as attorneys mentored law-academy students. ReLeah left Bay High when she was invited to become a founding member of the Florida Literacy and Reading Excellence (FLaRE) project at the University of Central Florida. There ReLeah and a team of literacy coordinators developed and provided state-wide professional development through the formation of Literacy Leadership Teams. She also helped to develop and implement coursework for Florida’s Reading Endorsement.
In 2006, after the publication of her third book, Engaging Adolescent Learners: A Guide for Content-Area Teachers (Heinemann), ReLeah left the University to become a full-time writer and international consultant, providing workshops, keynotes, and webinars on literacy issues. She had two books published in 2012: Overcoming Textbook Fatigue: 21st Century Tools to Invigorate Learning (ASCD) and Keep Them Reading: An Anti-Censorship Handbook for Educators, co-authored with Gloria Pipkin (Teachers College Press). Her latest book, co-authored with Barry Gilmore, Common Core CPR: What About Adolescents Who Struggle. . .Or Just Don’t Care? was published by Corwin in 2013.
ReLeah and Gloria received awards from the American Library Association and the National Council of Teachers of English for their defense of intellectual freedom. In addition, ReLeah received the Florida Council of Teachers of English’s President’s Award and the Intellectual Freedom Award from AFCON, Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska.
ReLeah lives in the North Georgia Mountains with her husband Bert and her two dogs, Cassanova and Sierra.