Educator Spotlight

Announcing the February 2018 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!

  • Ryan Alexander – Math  Teacher –  Harrisburg, PA
  • Staria Alexander – Instructional Specialist – Baltimore, MD
  • Melissa Backus – Teacher – Columbia, MO
  • Angelica Heath – ELS/Social Studies Teacher – GA
  • Pam Meyers – Counselor – Newton, PA
  • Mariela Perez – Teacher – Antioch, CA
  • Shafaye Rainey –  Special Education Teacher – GA

Ryan Alexander – Teacher
Elementary/High School Mathematics

“Mr. Alexander not only excels in his daily responsibilities as a math teacher but is quick to lend a helping hand to his teammates. Mr. Alexander has gone above and beyond to help new staff acclimate and become comfortable with IEP progress monitoring. Mr. Alexander has willingly volunteered to work with new staff individually to ensure their knowledge and understanding of proper process and their success at Capital Academy.” –  Jes Colatta, Team Leader, Capital Academy

  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • Penn State University B.S. in Business, K-12 Math Certification

Why did you become a teacher?

I fell into the education realm by chance, but I stayed because I derive a true sense of joy from the being able to positively impact and inspire students. More specifically, as a math teacher, I get to see students have epiphanies as they figure out solutions to their problems.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I can say with absolute honesty that my peers and immediate leadership are of the highest caliber and quality of people. I haven’t felt such a sense of camaraderie with my colleagues in a very long time. I love that I’m an integral part of the best wing in the best school within the Catapult Learning nation.

What is your greatest teaching success story?

It’s difficult to pin down just one success story as an educator. I pride myself on my ability to rapidly develop rapport with students, which typically enables student comfortability in talking about any subject. I always try to see things from the student’s perspective which conveys a true understanding regarding any issues or feelings they may have. This enables me to be there for students as needed, deescalate emotionally tense situations, and redirect negative behaviors almost always without incident.

What have you learned from your students?

Early on I learned that honesty is the key to developing trust and building rapport with my students. If they see that you are acting as if you care instead of being genuine – they will be the first to point this out. Maintaining your trustworthiness and honesty are really the best ways to ensure success in the school setting and in life, generally speaking.

Staria Alexander
Regional Instructional Specialist, Mid-Atlantic

“Staria has been an amazing addition to the Mid-Atlantic region!  She has assisted all schools in the region in improving their knowledge of everything ACI related and their use of academic interventions.  Her dedication and hard work have led to our schools having better teachers and improved academic growth.  Staria makes the most of every visit to her schools by working with staff hand-in-hand, observing classes, and delivering authentic feedback in a way that empowers our staff.” – Ben Colpitts, Director of High Road School of Harford County

  • Columbia, Maryland
  • College, Major or Area(s) of Study: University of Maryland, College Park and Johns Hopkins University.  Masters of Education with a concentration in reading

Why did you become a teacher?

As a lifelong learner myself, teaching has always been a career that intrigued me, but wasn’t one that I thought I would ever pursue, until I experienced what it meant to crave a career that enhanced my life. Shortly after graduation in 2000, I worked as an account executive for a marketing firm and quickly found my work to be unfulfilling. […] After ten very short months in what I thought would be my career, I found myself searching for a career would ignite that passion. I also found myself needing to “let go” of feeling like I’d failed myself and my organization by leaving a job so soon after starting.

In the spring of 2001, I came across job posting in a newspaper  for High Road School in Prince George’s County, Maryland. I started as an assistant teacher in the summer of 2001 and, as cliché as it sounds, fell in love with my work. Teaching proved to be the perfect blend of creativity, variety, knowledge, collaboration, learning, humor, and problem-solving. The rest was history!

That all said, when thinking about “why” I became a teacher, particularly with High Road programs, I wanted to be a champion for potential.  My awesome leaders, Ellen Gaske and Carrie Spies, saw potential in me and I knew each learner in my classroom possessed the potential to become the best version of him or herself, too. Bearing witness to and being a part of that process year after year confirmed that “why.”  Although I am no longer in the classroom, per se, I work with teachers throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and still champion for potential, both within them and their students.  And, there is NOTHING like seeing it actualized!

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

There is nothing like the culture within the schools where I provide instructional coaching and professional supports.  It doesn’t matter whether I am in Pennsylvania, Maryland, or Delaware, the culture within our schools cannot be replicated.  I love and am energized by teachers who are passionate about meeting the needs of their students, regardless how challenging it can be, and take advantage of every opportunity to learn new skills to enhance their instructional repertoire.  While I don’t directly teach students anymore, I certainly educate and coach their teachers on learning about and implementing an instructional model that is proven-effective through frequent professional development in large groups, small groups, and, sometimes most importantly, one-on-one.  The level of collaboration with my colleagues, participation from teachers, and all of the school communities’ willingness to try something new is only a testament to how invested our teachers are to embracing a culture that values a quality learning environment.

What is your greatest teaching success story?

My decade in the classroom was filled with many student celebrations and tremendous qualitative and quantitative gains for a great number of children, but that was only, in part, due to my efforts.  My greatest success had more to do with supporting students with the process of turning their own key to unlock their own potential.  Truth be told, I would only have most students for a year, and I knew that I couldn’t be the one who always unlocked the potential.  I knew that the risk of creating an unhealthy dependence could leave a student without the skills to unlock their own potential once they left my classroom. Working with mostly 8th graders, that wasn’t an option. They were four short years away from adulthood!  I invested time in teaching the curriculum and strategies to close academic gaps, but every lesson was carefully crafted to also teach the students how to love learning.  There was no greater joy than sitting in an annual review and hearing a great number of families express how “that year” had been the first in which their son or daughter finally enjoyed coming to school, wanted to read at home, asked to read to their younger siblings, or, most profoundly, thought their life was finally one that should be valued.  It was hearing that a student finally started to use the skills to unlock their own potential as a learner and as a productive member of their home and community that made me feel successful.

What have you learned from your students?

My students were always my greatest teachers, and the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that giving up is not an option. Life is riddled with challenges, but giving up does no one any favors. One could look at the answer to my first question and say, “But, Staria, you gave up on your first job.”  That’s fair enough; however, that was the shift I needed so that I didn’t give up on myself.

Many of our students are among the most resilient individuals you’d ever meet.  They choose not to rest their laurels on their stories and past experiences.  Because they are in school environments that provide a balance between empathy and accountability, and the tools and resources necessary to cope, progress, and display how amazing they can be, they make the choice to push ahead with their studies and, ultimately, their lives. Giving up is simply not an option.

Melissa Backus – Teacher

“Melissa’s dedication to student and staff growth makes me aware of her passion for the field of special education and this school. She is constantly looking for ways to help students improve and taking her personal time to help staff grow as well. Melissa retired from her previous position and, in her retirement, decided to come work with us. We are lucky to have her!” –  Jess Miller, Program Director, The High Road School of Boone County

  • Columbia, Missouri
  • MA in Exceptional Child from Southeast Missouri State University; MA in Instructional Design from Western Governors University

Why did you become a teacher?

I became a teacher because I enjoy young people a great deal. Years ago, I worked in a high school special education classroom and I enjoyed the students so much. My supervising teacher and the school superintendent repeatedly encouraged me to go to college to be a special education teacher because they could see how much I enjoyed the students. So I started college! I truly enjoy my job and my students tremendously! They brighten up every single day.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

There are several things I LOVE about working at Catapult Learning! My work family is amazing! We have a wonderful diverse group of people who always support each other and the students. There is joy, there is kindness, there is laughter, and there is hope and caring for every single child.

What is your greatest teaching success story?

My greatest success story was with a young man who had been to several schools and had been quite a behavior problem in each. At first, the young man was a bit of a challenge but after several months, the student had fewer timeouts and started working independently. This student is very proud of his successes and his parents are amazed at his progress, stating that this has been his best school year ever.

What have you learned from your students?

Every day I learn something new from my students. Sometimes it might be a new song or new dance move (Yes, we sing, dance, laugh, and act silly) or even a new word, but the most important thing I have learned from my students through the years is that every student wants to belong. When a teacher develops a sense of community or belonging within the classroom all students can succeed. Students develop a sense of pride and responsibility to the “community” and work to continue the success. Successes may be small, but they always happen.

Angelica Heath- Teacher
ELA/Social Studies 

“Every single day of the week I have had students come to my office talking in high regards about how Ms. Heath has taught them a various subject. The students are constantly chattering about what they have learned in Ms. Heath class. We as staff are able to see the effects of Ms. Heath teaching when they stand in front of their peers and recite a lesson or talk about an event with clarity and confidence. ” – Bruce Muhammad, FCS PEAK Academy

  • Woodbridge, Virginia
  • Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA)  Interdisciplinary Studies

Why did you become a teacher?

Naturally I am someone who loves helping others and have always wanted to be in a position that would allow me to make a difference. Coming from a household where both of my parents were educators, I grew up admiring their work ethic and dedication to their students. It was not until I began working with at-risk youth during my freshman year of college that I realized my own love and passion for teaching. There is so much power in education, but I believe what you choose to do with such power is quite significant. As an educator I have the ability to impact the lives of my students, and provide a safe space for those who need it most.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I love how Catapult has designed an environment for students to thrive and succeed. The beauty of this program is seeing changed behavior, leadership, and accountability in some of the most difficult students. I really love utilizing small-group instruction, as it allows for more opportunity to build relationships and reach students in various ways.

What is your greatest teaching success story?

My greatest teaching success story would have to be helping struggling readers fall in love with reading, and building their confidence. To me, there is nothing better than that. Being able to change their “can’t” into “can” fills me with great joy and lets me know that I am doing something right.

What have you learned from your students?

How important it is to build rapport and strong relationships with students! Positive outcomes manifest when students feel as though they are being heard, and that their opinions are valued and appreciated. Working with my students has created opportunities for us to learn and grow together.

Pam Myers

“Pam is our only full-time counselor at Conwell Egan Catholic High School (CEC). We have had four new counselors at CEC over the last five years, and Pam has done an excellent job of mentoring each of  them. She makes sure that students who need additional academic support get to our remedial teachers. Her focus is always on the needs of the students, regardless of how much she has to do. The school and guidance administration rely on Pam’s skills, judgement, commitment, and remarkable work ethic. “ – Susan Page, Coordinator of Counseling and Psychological Services/Regional Director

  • Newtown, Pennsylvania 
  • University of Miami- B.F.A., Drama
     Rider University – M.A., Counseling Services

How long have you been with Catapult Learning?

Since September 2001.

To which schools are you assigned? Tell us a little about the service you provide to the students there?

Conwell-Egan Catholic High School: I primarily provide all counseling services to the junior class, helping with the senior class. I promote various high school programs. I am available to help out with the freshman and sophomore classes.

What is your most recent Catapult Learning success story? What is your greatest Catapult Learning success story?

As I have been working with a junior student, now a senior student, the developmental changes in her are tremendous. In her junior year, she felt overwhelmed, stressed, and confused about her future. With my encouragement and her hard work, she has grown into a confident senior. She always asks me questions, follows through with all my recommendations, and is excited about her future plans. She plans on being a physical therapist.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning success story?

A junior student chose to attend Keystone Girls State, one of the programs I promote. She was selected to attend Keystone Girls National State. She asked me lots of great questions in her senior year and followed through with all my recommendations. She chose to attend Yale University, receiving $44,000 per year in scholarships. She is a kind, considerate, and dedicated student. She was proud of her accomplishments and thanked me for all my help.

Mariela Perez – Teacher
Preschool Teacher

“Ms. Mariela is kind and compassionate with her students yet demonstrates clear and consistent boundaries for her students and expectations for her staff. Ms. Mariela maintains positive relationships with her students’ parents and has built strong relationships on the trust and communication necessary for the little ones in her care. She consistently exhibits a positive and friendly attitude in her interactions with both clients and staff. This has created a positive atmosphere for her school site and created strong relationships between staff and families alike.” –   Bruno Diaz, Director, and Millad Nooraei, Associate Director, Sierra School of Antioch

  • Antioch, California
  • Early Childhood Special Education

Why did you become a teacher?

I always wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. What I didn’t know was that my true passion would be in special education. I have to say that I love to see what seems to be impossible come true. I love to see how children achieve small goals that at times I could not see them achieve. I love baby steps and eventually accomplishing a big goal.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I enjoy working for Catapult Learning because I’ve been given staff that love and work just as hard as I do for the students. Mr. Bruno is always available and supportive of all our crazy ideas to help and support our students. We receive praise and thanks for our work often and that truly means a lot, makes our hard job easier when you know you’re appreciated!

What is your greatest teaching success story?

Many of my preschoolers love to learn academics, but what is most rewarding is when they accomplish basic self-help skills, such as going potty independently after trying every single day for the past 2 ½ years, or when child learns to feed himself with a bottle independently after dealing with tantrums and crying, and can finally eat with a happy face.

What have you learned from your students?

Aside from learning patience and genuine love, I have learned that every child can learn and to never give up on them! Also, I’ve learned that the ones that challenge me the most are the ones I NEVER forget.

Shafaye Rainey – Teacher
Special Education Teacher

“Ms. Rainey consistently arrives to work early on a daily basis setting the standard and establishing a normative arrival culture. In the absence of our ELA/History teacher, due to maternity leave, Ms. Rainey stepped up and created lesson plans and taught the classroom so that our students were able to remain on track to receive academic and program services.  She has no issue at all taking initiative and showing leadership Jermaine Nicholas Sr., Director of Operations/Associate Director, F.C.S PEAK Academy

  • Union City, Georgia
  • Savannah State University (Mass Communication)
    Georgia State University (Behavioral Studies/Education)

Why did you become a teacher?

Education is my passion; learning and cultivating a realm that has no endless possibilities is profoundly amazing to me! In the world of education, that speaks truth to my life. I love obtaining and sharing knowledge, especially to inquiring minds. What greater gift can I give back to society, than sharing the wisdom and intelligence I have? I believe that is the purpose I am to serve and I love it.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

What I love most about teaching at Catapult Learning is the relationships I’ve built with my students. The ease, comfort, and respect that has developed, because of doing what I love to do. These students come from many devastating situations, hardships and tumultuous times and they still manage to come to school. The bonds created are unbreakable and I know I’m leaving a footprint in their lives for them to model after.

What is your greatest teaching success story?

I wouldn’t so much say I have the “greatest teaching success story”, because I have great success every day. The task of being able to take at-risk students and instruct  them academically and behaviorally, to evolve them into productive young ladies and gentlemen, is my success and it’s great for me every single day. So many of our students have accepted self-fulling prophesy of what the naysayers have said, and it’s challenging to adjust their way of thinking otherwise. To change their minds about how the world may have given up on them and life seems hopeless, and to put in those extra hours and sacrifices because you know a student is in need– that’s the hard work. I must say it has made a significant impact and the reward is so gratifying.

What have you learned from your students?

I’ve learned I’m never too old to be schooled. I learn from them just as they learn from me. I come from a different walk of life than majority of the students. Having the ability of being open-minded to other perspectives of life has allowed me to find constructive, conducive and proficient ways to be able to reach my students within the learning environment. Knowing who they are is changing me as an educator. It is building my repertoire of versatility in education and I owe it all to them.