Announcing the November 2017 Educator Spotlight honorees! Congratulations to our educators.

The Educator Spotlight is a monthly feature on our Catapult Corner Blog. The educators that are highlighted are nominated by their colleagues in recognition of the positive impact they have on children and schools throughout the country. They are our very own shining stars!

  • Alana Alcala-Reeves – Teacher – Sacramento, CA
  • Ben Beiza – Teacher – Butte County, CA
  • Diana Brown – Consultant – Clermont, FL
  • Jason Gozo – Teacher – Antioch, CA
  • Shannon Larkin – Teacher – Wright City, MO
  • Pam Scully – Teacher – Titusville, FL

Alana Alcala-Reeves- Teacher

“Ms. Alcala has been an invaluable Special Education Teacher with Sierra School at Eastern Extension for over three years. She has shown great dedication to her students and team. Every day she comes to work, she gives her all. ” – Brittany Auernig, School Director, Sierra School at Eastern Extension

  • Sacramento, California
  • California State University, Sacramento, B.S. Criminal Justice, minor in Psychology
  • National University, Masters in Special Education (in progress)

Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher in the field of special education because I have the opportunity to educate amazing students with exceptionalities. Having the opportunity to make a sustainable difference every day for students and their families, brings me great joy and happiness. I have always enjoyed helping and supporting others. As a teacher I am able to do both.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
I love teaching for Catapult Learning because we have a great company that truly invests in its employees. Current employees have the ability to promote and this is great for moving up within the company. Also, being an educator is not an easy job sometimes, however, Catapult Learning always infuses new ways of making the special education program at my school better and supportive for teachers. Another thing that makes teaching great is the way Catapult Learning is always looking into new ideas and supports for students. Catapult Learning truly cares about their employees and students.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
I have many stories from throughout my teaching career where students have been a success story. However, one student touched my heart deeply. This particular student was overcoming problems within the Juvenile Justice System and it was very unlikely this student would graduate when supposed to. However, I gave this student the support they needed. Myself, and others believed in this student when it was needed the most. After some time of ups and downs, the student began to show huge progress both academically and behaviorally. The success story was when I was able to write a personal speech for their graduation ceremony. It solidified that with hard work, devotion, and focus, no one is incapable of doing the unthinkable.

What have you learned from your students?
I have learned many things from my students. I have learned that every soul that walks through my classroom has a special gift and talent within him or her. I have seen students overcome obstacles and disadvantages that have humbled and encouraged me to be a better me. Consistency, encouragement, and validation seem to be the ingredients that students both with, and without, disabilities need in order to have a successful education.

Ben Beiza – Teacher

“Benjamin is one of those teachers that sees what we do as a calling, not a JOB; he goes above and beyond in all aspects of teaching and coaching quietly his fellow teachers. Benjamin is always available to help both students and staff and has assumed the role of translator for our Spanish-speaking parents. Being in a position to watch the growth of such a fine young man has been a privilege. Benjamin has a great balance of high expectation and encouraging his students to strive higher and helping them stretch themselves to achieve.” – Sheila McCarthy, School Director, Sierra School of Butte County

  • San Jose, Califonia
  • UCLA, B.A. in American Literature

Why did you become a teacher?
Throughout my K-12tand college education, I was fortunate to meet passionate educators who helped me understand and appreciate the value of life-long learning. I teach with the goal of passing on this tradition to students who find general education settings to be challenging.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
In the year and a half that I have been a part of Sierra School of Butte County, I have met supportive staff members that inspire me every day to be the best teacher for our students. School administrators are also very helpful and encouraging. I love that we are  allowed to be creative in lesson planning as well as in starting fun projects like a culinary program.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
One of my greatest teaching experiences came when I was able to relate self­ regulation/emotional self-control to a student’s passion: chess. We would discuss how arguments with peers can be thought of in a similar way to decisions made in moving chess pieces: “Before getting upset and reacting, try to think two or three steps ahead and weight the consequences of your actions.” After several reading/chess rotations, the student was able to re-frame his perspective on interpersonal conflict. It was truly rewarding to see how this helped him manage conflict with peers.

What have you learned from your students?
I have learned that a positive learning community can be created by challenging students academically and maintaining a respectful environment. Our students’ curiosity and creativity motivate me to become a better teacher.

Diana Brown – Coach

“Diana is a leader amongst our colleagues in both performance and action. She commits quality time for her own preparation, while also working with others in study group – fashion to help make sure that everyone is comfortable and on the same page ahead of the next round of sessions. Diana is willing to ask questions, give feedback, and even engage in critical conversation when there is a point which bears making.” -Christin A. R. Nichols, Professional Learning Supervisor for Facilitators, DoDEA, Catapult Learning

  • Clermont, Florida
  • B.A. Elementary Education/Early Childhood; M.Ed. Specific Learning Disabilities; Areas of Certification: Early Childhood, Elementary Education K–5, Reading K–12, Special Education K–12

What is your prior teaching experience?

  • 14 years elementary experience in grades K, 2, 3 regular classrooms; K–5 Specific Learning Disabilities Resource Room; Literacy Coach
  • 2 years teaching grades 9–12 Remedial English and Math
  • 10 years as Director, Lake County Schools Effective Teaching Center (District Office) – Dissemination of research-based effective teaching practices for teachers and administrators through professional development and coaching; coordinating all classes and teaching at the ETC; During tenure, this innovative PD won a national staff development award for the initiative
  • 3 years at District Office – Title I PD Coordinator; Facilitator of 7 Literacy First Schools including coaching and PD for administrators and teachers

Why did you decide to become a coach?
I have always benefited from the feedback and support of my colleagues. I enjoyed working with teachers and administrators throughout my career and experienced coaching success with teachers and administrators when educational practices were enhanced leading to increased student learning. Many coaching initiatives were built upon a deficit model for improvement. This model reached approximately 20% of the teaching staff. It always concerned me that there were 80% of the teachers who were doing well. After reading the book Good to Great, I was convinced there had to be a collegial model that would serve as embedded professional development at the school-based level to enhance teaching and learning for teachers who wished to perfect their craft resulting in increased student achievement.

Why do you feel coaching is a valuable professional development experience for teachers?
Collegial coaching grounded in collaborative conversations enables educators to reach their full potential as relationships are built and based upon mutual trust, respect, optimism, and intentionality. One of my beliefs about people is that everyone has untapped human potential. Collegial coaching invites this unrecognized potential forth by allowing the educator to use reflective practice to discover it.

What is your most rewarding Catapult Learning coaching success story?
I was asked to pilot the Coaching Connections course with another consultant in a rather large school district. The initiative was a Title I project, and we facilitated the Coaching Connections professional development with the Title I coaches. Following the professional development sessions, I had the opportunity to visit a few of the schools and work closely with their administrators and coaches to model the model and coach the coaches with the Catapult model. These coaches were familiar with a deficit model of coaching and were sometimes skeptical that the Catapult model would work. After discussion at one school site, I was asked to model a coaching pre-conference with a teacher who agreed to work with us to “practice.” Following the model pre-conference, the math coach observed the teacher. On my next visit, I observed the math coach conduct the post-conference. She was overwhelmed that this teacher used the observation sheet co-designed at the pre-conference with me to reflect on the lesson and decide what adjustments needed to be made without suggestions from the math coach. The math coach continued to use the Catapult Coaching Model through planning the conferences and open questioning. She excelled with collaborative conversations and the school district promoted her to District Coach based upon her skills and knowledge of content and coaching. We celebrated her success together and the success of this teacher with her students as a direct result of collaborative coaching.

Jason Gozo – Teacher

“Mr. Gozo is always the first to arrive and last to leave our campus. His friendly disposition and easy-going personality make him a staff and student favorite alike. He always responds to staff requests for support and guidance with a smile and has maintained many of these personal relationships throughout his years in this field. He never expects any recognition in return and is humble about the hard work he does on a daily basis.” – Bruno Diaz, School Director, Sierra School of Antioch

  • Antioch, California
  • Chapman University 

Why did you become a teacher?
I’ve always knew I would work with kids since the age of 16. My first job was an after-school daycare provider. Initially, I wanted to work with children as a therapist so I pursued a master’s degree. As I worked as a day-treatment therapist, I was also working in a classroom. I saw how teaching could have more impact and pursued a teacher’s credential. After 10 years of work, I haven’t been burnt out because of my passion for these students.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
I love the staff and students that I work with at The Sierra School of Antioch. Even though some of the staff and most of the students give me grief, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for my students and staff.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
Each day that I get to live on this earth, I consider a success. I don’t consider any one story more special than the others because we all have different lessons in life, one big book of stories. We live in a book and each one of us has a different story to tell.  This is our journey – our journey of many successful stories.

What have you learned from your students?
I believe I learned more about myself than what I teach my students. I’ve learned patience and empathy. I think my sense of humor has greatly made this job easier to cope with. I want to impart on my students to not take life so seriously – that not everything is a life-or-death matter. I believe that my students have inherited that trait. My passion for the challenges and obstacles I get to deal with are gifts from God. I am happy to be able to meet those challenges no matter how difficult is for me. I’ve learned to persevere and not everything will be fixed or even understood by when I want.

Shannon Larkin – Teacher

“Shannon has always been very eager to do anything she needs to help students and the school. Shannon has taken on an additional caseload while a classroom lost its teacher due to a scheduled leave. She keeps an eye on the student behaviors and is always staying on top of their academics. Shannon is a real self-starter and an incredibly positive personality for the classroom and school. She is a leader with enough humility to learn, and she is a student with enough confidence to lead.” – Aaron O’Neal, School Director, High Road School of Wright City

  • St. Charles, Missouri
  • University of Missouri-St. Louis B.A Elementary Education K-12/Special Education K-12 with an endorsement to Teach English to Speakers of Other Languages K-12

Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher because I was motivated by helping others. Teaching gives me the ability to touch lives in various ways each day.  Working with students of any age is a challenge that I continue to welcome with open arms! 

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
I love the support and enthusiasm that the educators of Catapult Learning offer. I have felt an immediate sense of community since the moment I started working for Catapult. The best feeling is knowing that I am surrounded by people who want to help me succeed. 

What is your greatest teaching success story?
My greatest teaching success story occurred during my first year of teaching.  One of my students struggled with severe anxiety and could barely enter the school building each morning, let alone enter the classroom.  I made a plan to meet this student before school hours each day and walk her to the room and get settled before other students arrived.  Her anxiety decreased as she was able to find comfort in the plan we made.  Her parents have kept in contact and tell me that when she is confronted with a situation that increases her anxiety, they think back to “times with Ms. Larkin,” and use the strategies I taught her to confront her anxiety. I love knowing that I have made a difference beyond just the classroom! 

What have you learned from your students?
I learn new things from my students each day. I feel that through my experience with teaching, I have learned that the ability to empathize and listen can make any large problem that much smaller. 

Pamela Scully – Teacher

“Pam is always willing to go above and beyond to be helpful to school administration, supervisors and co-workers. She works very closely with her school to best meet the needs of her students. She helps train new Catapult Learning teachers and is always willing to open her classroom for other teachers to observe and learn from her. Pam always has a positive, can-do attitude, and her school customers have the highest praise for her. I know that I can always count on her commitment to doing the best job possible!” – Pia McKibben, Program Supervisor, Brevard County, Catapult Learning

  • Titusville, Florida
  • University of Central Florida (UCF), B.S. in Public Administration, minor Business Administration

Why did you become a teacher?
Teaching was not my original plan; it kind of found me. After I had my own children, I would often volunteer in their classrooms for social events and during center times. I was asked to come in more and more. One of the teachers asked me if I would consider becoming a substitute teacher, so I did. I really enjoyed being in the classrooms and working with children of all ages. Instead of returning to the corporate world once my children were older, I went back to school to get my teaching certification. It was the best career choice I ever made.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
Teaching for Catapult Learning allows us to focus on the individual child. With the small group settings, we have the opportunity to hone in on a student’s specific needs, while they learn at their own pace. We give them a safe place to express their thoughts and ideas without recourse from other students. What is better than that?

What is your greatest teaching success story?
I do not have one life-changing success story. I think my greatest success moments come on a regular day in the form of smiles—the smiles I see on the students faces when I walk into their classroom to pick them up, the smiles I see when a student is happy they “got it right,” and my very favorite smiles when I see past students in the hallways and they smile and wave at me.

What have you learned from your students?
Because of my students, what I have come to truly understand and appreciate is that no two people are alike. We come with different family values, experiences, and points of view. We all have strengths and weaknesses. We all have good days and bad days. But through it all, we know school is a safe and caring place and we are all there for the same reason . . . to grow to become better people.