Educator Spotlight

Announcing the March 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!

  • Sarah Beaulieu – Social Worker –  Windham, CT
  • Elisa Brente – National PD Consultant – Stamford, CT
  • Michelle Dall – Academic Counselor – Chicago, IL
  • Tiffany Franklin – National PD Consultant – Los Angeles, CA
  • Christine Hartwich – Teacher – Hartford, CT
  • Ashley Houdek – Social Worker – Greeley, CO
  • Jennie Serra –  Teacher – Wallingford, CT

Sarah Beaulieu
Social Worker

“Sarah joined the Catapult team at the beginning of this school year, but her work ethic, reliability, rapport, and commitment display that of a veteran staff member. Sarah goes above and beyond to ensure that what is in the best interest for each student is always being met. Her community outreach efforts have connected families with local therapeutic agencies, sports teams, and health clubs. Sarah demonstrates knowledge that her students need to be involved in positive activities when the bell rings at the end of the day, and has extended herself to ensuring opportunities are available.” – Jessica Gale, Operations Manager, High Road Camino Alto @ Windham Middle School and Windham High School

  • Windham, Connecticut
  • University of Connecticut School of Social Work, MSW, LMSW

Why did you become a teacher?

I became a social worker because I recognize the importance of relationships. Being a social worker means I get the opportunity to work with those who cannot find the strength to grow as a person on their own. I hope to teach people the ability to communicate and build relationships through social skills and recognizing commonalities and respecting differences.  I believe I have a strong internal empathy and compassion for others, which is the greatest asset to any treatment professional.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

What I love most about my position at Catapult Learning is my team. I also get to practice incorporating  individual work, group work, and community resource collaboration at a micro and macro level.

What is your greatest teaching success story?

My greatest success encompasses several students. I feel most empathetic when I can form that relationship with students who may not have had positive relationships with adults in their lives. Through this therapeutic relationship, I can help them accept disappointments and mistakes and build goals for the future.

What have you learned from your students?

My work has reaffirmed for me that a joy for life and learning is an important aspect of any child’s life. I hope to be a part of the process to ensure that they get those experiences.

Elisa Brente
National Consultant

“Elisa has extensive experience training and coaching to schools and districts in supporting English Learners in a general education setting and has authored several publications on literacy instruction. Her expertise shows in the facilitator notes of each session; she helps the presenter see the critical connections across the content, designs interactive activities to illustrate key points, and provides clear examples of what good instruction should look like in the classroom. She exemplifies the Core 4.” – Jessica Chung, Director of Program Design East/Midwest and Jessica Bianculli, Executive Director of Professional Development

  • Stamford, Connecticut
  • Masters in Elementary Education, Educational Specialist in Instructional Leadership and Brain Based Learning, Focus in Literacy, English Learners and School Reform

What is your prior teaching experience? 

K−6 Elementary

Why did you decide to become a consultant/coach?

I went into consulting and coaching so that I could continue to grow as an educator and share my passion for learning with others.

Why do you feel coaching is a valuable professional development experience for teachers?

Professional development and coaching for educators is key for them to stay on the cutting edge of the profession and to hone their craft.

What is your most rewarding Catapult Learning coaching success story?

My most rewarding coaching success story is seeing educators that I coach find passion, because they have become confident in the art and science of teaching.

Michelle Dall 
Academic Counselor

“Michelle is an exceptional counselor and is dedicated to her work and students. She works in four different schools, among different cultures, grade levels, and academic abilities. She adapts well and is able to build strong relationships with the staff and students at all of her schools. Michelle is passionate about her role as a counselor – she is actively engaged and willing to go above and beyond for her students.” – Ashley Strader, Counseling Supervisor, Chicago Public Schools Title I Academic Counseling

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Masters of Education in Counseling, Sociology, Spanish Minor, DePaul University

Why did you become a teacher (counselor)?

Growing up in a single-parent, low-income household, I realized the path to success was through education. Education opened doors and gave me the opportunities to accomplish what I truly wanted in life. I was not the best student and lacked confidence until I reached college. There, I flourished and realized the great impact education had in my life. These experiences encouraged me to support and inspire students who might be struggling to see the finish line as I once had. I began my career as an intern for an after-school program that developed leadership and life skills for students at a Chicago Public School (CPS) high school. I enjoyed working in the school environment and found it rewarding to mentor and guide students towards positive growth. This experience led me to pursue a career in school counseling.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

It is such a unique job that allows me to work one-on-one with a diverse range of students and grade levels. I love that each day is different and that I get to work with dedicated principals, teachers, and support personnel from four  different schools. I also feel supported by my fellow coaches and supervisors during monthly meetings and enjoy the synergy of ideas that we share to help all of our students.

What is your greatest teaching success story?

There are several moments that pull at my heartstrings. As an academic coach/counselor, our role is a bit different than instructors. We primarily help students develop executive function skills of organization, time-management, and learning strategies. We also help students develop 21st-century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. We do this to help promote student independence and decision-making skills. One student that I work with had come from another country just two years ago. He was a bit lost due to the communication barrier and school transition.

When I started working with him, he was not turning in any homework assignments and had no system for keeping track of school work. I taught him how to organize a binder with labeled tabs and file folders. I began to teach him about the growth mindset, which helps students understand that our abilities are not fixed and that we can continue to grow as long as we believe and practice. The next week, several teachers commented that he seemed like a completely different student. He began turning in homework and appeared more dedicated to school. While I cannot take credit for his transformation, as helping a student is a team effort, I like to think that our time together has encouraged some of the positive changes he made.

What have you learned from your students?

I learn something from my students almost every day. They keep me on my toes. What I have learned the most from my students is that learning needs to be engaging and relevant to truly soak in. I ask students for feedback about lessons and what helped and what did not. They will be honest and help me become a better educator in return. They have also taught me that attitude and confidence play a major role in learning. Sometimes it isn’t about being the “smartest” person in the room, it is about your attitude and willingness to get the job done that brings success.

Tiffany Franklin
National Consultant

“Tiffany brings extensive pedagogical knowledge, dedication, and creativity to role of PD consultant. She has the ability to transfer theory into practice, and effectively break down complex tasks into manageable components for teachers.  She consistently receives the highest praise from those with whom she works, who not only appreciate her sincere dedication to their school community, but also view her as an integral part of their professional learning.” – Jessica Bianculli, Executive Director of Professional Development

  • Los Angeles, California
  • Pepperdine University, MA in Education

What is your prior teaching experience? 

I have over 15 years classroom experience. I started as an undergrad exchange student in Italy where I was a Middle School Fine Art teacher in a multi-lingual school for children of diplomats. I continued working with the school over the summer as an early childhood English as a Foreign Language teacher. Upon my return to the US, I enrolled in Pepperdine University’s Graduate School for my Master’s Degree and credential. I’ve worked as an elementary teacher and a K-12 technology teacher before finding my niche in middle school. The majority of my classroom experience was in MS teaching ELA, Science and Math for 6-8th grade.

Why did you decide to become a consultant/coach?

I appreciate the element of professional choice coaching provides for educators.  As a teacher, I endured numerous professional development offerings that didn’t meet the specific goals I had for my practice. Having worked with a coach as a teacher and as an athlete, I found the experience to be invaluable to reaching my goals.

Why do you feel coaching is a valuable professional development experience for teachers?

Most professional development opportunities for teachers tend to be a one-size-fits all approach. While there are nuggets of great information and strategies offered, I find coaching to be more of a custom fit. A good coach supports your individual goals, learning style, while providing feedback and challenge within the context of your school, your students and your community culture.

What is your most rewarding Catapult Learning coaching success story?

One story that stands out was working with a school in East Los Angeles.  The school was just starting to look at instructional practices and using data to drive instruction.  I was working with a fifth-grade teacher to develop instructional interventions for students based on current data.  She identified a group of students she wanted to start with and the standard/skill to address.  We planned small group instructional sequences for those students and various formative assessment checkpoints along the way.  When the students were reassessed, all of them were able to reach the benchmark goal.  She went from being skeptical to a believer, and even now, three years later, she will tell me about her successes and how that support changed her view of instruction and working with struggling students.

Christine Hartwich
Lead Teacher

  • Hartford, Connecticut
  • Providence College B.A. Elementary and Special Education; Central Connecticut State University May 2018 Graduation- Masters in Mathematics.

“Christine goes above and beyond her job expectations every day and exemplifies our Core 4!  Her positive attitude and energy are astounding and people often ask how she is always so energetic. Christine volunteers for tasks before even being asked and has taken both a formal and informal leadership role this school year.” – Jennifer Johnson, Education Director, High Road School of Hartford Primary

Why did you become a teacher?

I became a teacher to be a positive role model for children. I can be that adult who not only teaches them academic material, but who can create a safe space while they are learning how to be kind to one another and while they are going through their own struggles. My brother and a few relatives have disabilities, and I had learned how to be patient in their times of need from a young age. Getting into the field of Special Education came natural to me. Lastly, I want to build children’s love for learning from a young age. This was why the elementary route was great for me.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

Catapult Learning allows me to individualize my lessons and reach children in their critical stages of education, so they do not fall further behind. I can build their self-esteem, create positive interactions with their peers and adults, and work on regulating their emotions to be successful in the outside world. I also enjoy having students’ year after year to see their progress, to truly know my students, and to develop those positive rapports with the student and their families. I have had some students for three or four years.

What is your greatest teaching success story?

I am currently in my fourth year teaching with Catapult Learning and my greatest success story is currently in progress. A young boy started at High Road School a few years ago, and our team is discussing a transition back to public school. This student has been in my class for the last four years. He has improved academically in Language Arts and Mathematics, but flourishes in his creative endeavors such as science and STEM electives. Most importantly, this student has reached the highest-level system color several times, and has not been on the lowest color level in over a year. He uses his coping skills and is now a mentor to students who are having a difficult time with their self-regulation. I am extremely proud of him.

What have you learned from your students?

As I teach students from an urban, low-economic setting, my students have taught me to balance my empathy with my accountability for them. They do not need someone to let them slide when they are not following the rules because I know it will allow them to succeed when they can eventually make positive choices. I never give up on my students and it is extremely difficult for me when a student moves away or changes schools. As that does happen frequently, my students have taught me to be present every moment and to not give up on them.

Ashley Houdek
Social Worker

“Ashley maintains exceptional communication with all members of the school community including other staff, students, parents, and districts. It has been clear from feedback from all of these community members that Ashley has a significant and positive impact on the community as a whole. Additionally, it is clear through Ashley’s daily practice that she is invested not only in the current student population but in Catapult Learning as a whole. Ashley often excitedly shares the reasons behind her commitment to Catapult Learning when interacting with new staff members.” – Sarah Strothkamp, Executive Director, and Emmie Swift, Special Education Teacher, Sierra School of Weld County

  • Greenley, Colorado
  • Eastern Michigan University, Bachelors of Science in Social Work, Masters of Social Work in Children and Family Studies, with concentration in School Social Work 

Why did you become a teacher (Social Worker)?

I knew I wanted to become a social worker when I started working inner city basketball camps when I was in high school. I saw first hand how kids were struggling with poverty and education and that further confirmed my wanting to become a social worker. Once I started with undergrad, I knew I wanted to specifically work with children and families with a concentration in school social work.

What do you love the most about working with Catapult Learning?

There are many things I love most about being a social worker for Catapult.  I absolutely love my co-workers and boss. I also love being able to have flexibility over what my check-ins look like with the students as well as what I teach for Social Skills Group. Thus far, my career at Catapult has been the most supportive, cohesive work environment that I have experienced.

What is your greatest teaching success story?

I would have to say that my greatest  story is watching one of my students continue to grow and mature since I started working for Catapult. When I started, this student was constantly on Red Level, earning time-outs and really having a hard time trying to regulate himself. Since then he has navigated the level system and has worked on and created coping tools for him to use on a daily basis.

What have you learned from your students?

I have learned that it is definitely okay to have a bad day. I also have learned that it’s okay in their eyes to not have all the answers and not to try and fix everything.

Jennie Serra

  • Wallingford, Connecticut
  • Fordham University, Sociology; Southern Connecticut State University, Special Education

“Having witnessed first-hand one of Ms. Serra’s lessons, I can tell by her delivery and how her students were actively participating in the lesson and contributing to the discussion that she is passionate about her students and their education. I have witnesses her compassion for the population of our school: taking the time to ask any student how his or her day is going and going out of her way to make students smile if they are having a tough day by offering a encouraging word or just being energetic and positive and upbeat.  Jennie Serra has true passion for this field. She is making Catapult Learning a better place to learn, grow, and work.” – Amy Sjovall, Educational Director  and Matt Berardesca, Operations Manager, High Road School Of Wallingford

Why did you become a teacher?

During my time as an undergrad at Fordham University, I tutored students as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Program, which helps economically and educationally disadvantaged students. I assisted students with their academic coursework and supported each student in their efforts to realize their academic goals. Helping the students I tutored achieve their goals quickly became one of my own goals. Working with each student and seeing them succeed was better than any success of my own. One day I received a thank you message from a student—a sincere, heartfelt thank you—and I realized it was the most meaningful thank you I’d ever received. I realized the impact these students had on me was just as great as the impact I had on them. As a teacher, I hope to continue to positively impact the lives of students and help them reach their goals.

What do you love the most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I love that we are able to provide a safe space for our students—a safe place to learn, a safe place to build relationships, a safe place to grow. In some school environments, it can be easy for students to feel lost, overlooked, or unsupported. I love that as a team we are able to provide unwavering support for our students in all areas, whether it be academically, emotionally, socially. In the classroom, I love that I am able to support each student academically and create an environment where they feel comfortable and safe asking questions, making mistakes (and learning from them), and collaborating with peers.

What is your greatest teaching success story?

This one is hard. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been teaching for a very long time, or maybe it’s because there are too many to choose from. Every smile I put on a student’s face feels like a success. Every correct answer. Every “thank you.” Every moment I see a light bulb go off and see a student understanding something new for the first time. Every obstacle crossed. Every achievement—no matter how big or small. These things happen every day and makes every day feel like a success, even the hardest days.

What have you learned from your students?

My students have taught me to be myself. The acceptance I’ve felt from my students is heartwarming and encouraging. They have been so receptive to my weird, quirky self and have taught me it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to be imperfect. I’ve learned how smart and perceptive they truly are—there’s no fooling them, which is so important to realize and remember. They can sense sincerity and appreciate it. I hope I can inspire them to embrace what makes them different and to always stay true to themselves.