Catapult Learning Educator Spotlight: May 2012

Educator Spotlighteducator spotlight

Catapult Learning has long recognized that our teachers, our coaches, and our specialized services professionals are the foundation upon which our company stands.  We literally wouldn’t be here without their tireless efforts to help struggling students succeed!  We thank you for all that you do each and every day.

We recently introduced a new feature for Catapult Learning: the Catapult Learning Educator Spotlight where we honored four teachers, one coach, one specialized services professional, and one Literacy First consultant. They are our very own shining stars!

We wanted to go a little further in letting these folks know just how important they are and how much we value their commitment.  So, we asked our winners to tell us about themselves and their experiences with Catapult Learning…below are the interviews with each of our Educator Spotlight winners!

Beginning in August 2012, we will make the Educator spotlight a monthly contribution here on the Catapult Learning Blog.


Getting to Know Catapult Teachers….

Paula Nieto Miller – Math and Reading Comprehensionpaula-nieto-miller-picture

  • Los Angeles CA
  • Vanguard University of Southern California, Education/Intercultural Studies

Why did you become a teacher?

I became a teacher because I realized that I felt most fulfilled when I was helping young people achieve academic success, especially those students who had the odds stacked against them.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I love several things about teaching for Catapult Learning, including: the supportive work environment, the commitment to a research-based approach to instruction, the tracking of student success, and knowing that I am providing a high quality curriculum to students who really need breakthroughs in the areas of reading comprehension and math.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

I could highlight several teaching success stories from my time with Catapult Learning, however one boy’s success in particular stands out to me. Last summer I had the opportunity of teaching a class of freshman boys from East Los Angeles. One boy came into the class with an extremely low sense of self-efficacy in the area of reading comprehension and writing and seemed to have no hope of improving in my class. However, each day he came to class he started to experience small successes within the lessons and began grow in the writing process. By the half-way point of the program I could see a complete change in his attitude and he was enthusiastic about coming to class and learning. By the end of the program he was much more confident and proud of what he knew and was able to do, which really showed in his test scores. I was so proud of him and honored to be a part of his success.

What have you learned from your students?

My students have affirmed that they want to learn, they want to achieve, and that they can achieve more than what others or even I may expect of them. They just need someone who will provide them with the appropriate learning tools and support to propel them to the next level.

Anne Webster – ACT 89 Teacheranne-webster-teacher-may-20121-220x150

  • Bucks County PA

Why did you become a teacher?

As the oldest child in a family of seven children, I had ample opportunities to “play teacher”, which was my favorite pastime as a child. Later, I received great satisfaction in helping my sisters and brother with homework, finding ways to help them recall facts for a test or to understand an assignment. After a while, I came to realize that what I wanted to most in life was to teach.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

The structure of the Catapult Learning Program provides me with the opportunity to work with small groups of children, reteaching skills at their own learning pace. The abundant and outstanding materials made available to Catapult Learning staff members makes it easy to demonstrate skills and provide students with hands-on learning experiences.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

It is difficult to pinpoint one success story. I have had the pleasure to share in so many successes while observing students gain skills in areas of math and reading, focus and self-confidence.

The most recent success that comes to mind is Theodore F. Theo has been in the Catapult Reading program since the beginning of first grade and joined the Catapult Math program this school year in second grade. When I first met Theodore he was experiencing great difficulty with phonics skills and sight word recognition. Today he is reading with an amazingly increased fluency. He uses the Good Reader Strategies taught in the Catapult Learning program to successfully decode unfamiliar words. His comprehension skills have soared. Only yesterday, he completed reading a story and then chuckled with understanding and exclaimed an unprompted predicted outcome! He recently surprised me with the statement, “I have discovered my math potential now that you showed me what multiplication is!” How is that for demonstrating increased confidence?

What have you learned from your students?

My many students over the years have taught me that slow and steady can really be the way to achieve a goal!

kay-herman-teacher-may2012Kay Hermann – Title I Teacher

  • Nashville TN

Why did you become a teacher?

I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything but a teacher. I come from a family of teachers. Both of my grandmothers taught in one room school houses in Wisconsin. My dad was a college professor. Often, my grandmas’ were still in school when my family went to visit them in Green Bay. One or the other would take me to school with her. Both let me read to the younger children and help them with their work. That love for teaching children has never left me.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

My colleagues here in Nashville are the best. My Regional Director and Supervisor who will do anything and everything for us. My students who are the reason I drive 160 miles round trip, 4 days a week, for the last 11 years. To do that, you have to love teaching for Catapult Learning.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

Several years ago I had a student who had tremendous difficulty writing larger numbers with zeros. He couldn’t’t write the number, number words, or expanded form. We worked and worked on it. On the day “the light went on” he had a terrible cold. At the end of class he said, “Mrs. Hermann, if I wasn’t sick I bet you would be high-fiving me now.” It was one of those times I have never forgotten.

What have you learned from your students?

Patience and perseverance. Most of my students are having a very difficult time in reading and/or math. They have taught me to have patience with them, keep encouraging them, and to persevere in finding different approaches to teaching a skill. If I can remember to do these things, I can usually hear the words all teachers love to hear, “Oh! Now I get it.”

Amy Brinkman – Title 1 Reading and Math Teacheramy-brinkman-teacher-may2012-768x1024

  • Dayton OH
  • University of Dayton, Early Childhood Education

Why did you become a teacher?

I’ve known since I was very young that I wanted to be a teacher. My second grade teacher was fantastic and he inspired me to follow in his footsteps. As a student I’ve always been excited by and loved learning. As a teacher I get to share this love of learning with my students everyday.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I love seeing my students experience those “light bulb” moments. You can see on their faces when all of a sudden, everything makes sense. Learning can be a struggle for many of my students and it doesn’t get much better than seeing them feel successful and confident in their own learning.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

As sad as it makes me to see them go, when a student exits Title 1 it typically means I’ve done my job and they no longer require my services. I have taught them the strategies and skills needed to succeed in the regular classroom. I had a young boy start Title 1 very below grade level in 2nd grade and through lots of hard work on both our parts he is now reading on grade level and exiting the Title 1 program at the end of 3rd grade.

What have you learned from your students?

I find myself learning new things from my students all the time. They can be so creative and insightful when it comes to analyzing text or writing. I have also learned from them to take things one step at a time and not to get too overwhelmed by the big picture. This is something I teach my math students when working with multi-step problems, but I find it is often very applicable to daily life as well.

Getting to Know Catapult Coaches…

barbara-darbyBarbara R. Darby – Reading, Literacy, Language Arts and History Coach

  • Milwaukee WI
  • Alverno College and Mount Mary College, Elementary Education

What is your prior teaching experience?

I have been a coach for Catapult Learning for the past 6 years. Prior to my retirement I taught in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin for four years teaching both 1st and 3rd grade. I then began working for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as an elementary teacher and taught grades 2 through 8 over a 19 year period. In 1988 I joined the staff of Audubon Technology and Communication Center, a Milwaukee Public Schools Middle School teaching reading and English as well as Title 1 reading, computer and video production at Audubon. I was the Literacy Coach of my school for the last 5 years before my retirement.

Why did you decide to become a coach?

When I retired I left still loving the profession. I hoped to be a support for those struggling as teachers so that they would not give up and leave the profession. My goal has always been to help good teachers become great.

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

Having a coach within a school building shows that administration values their staff and is willing to provide support for them when needed. We are able to provide insight into the every day happenings both in academics and classroom management. Workshops and in-services give teachers the information but application coaching shows how to put it into practice.

What is your most rewarding Catapult Learning coaching success story?

This year I worked with a 6th grade teacher and his students who were struggling in math. The days I was in the building I spent an hour assisting the students co-teaching with the teacher. After a few weeks most of the students were doing well and the teacher felt more confident. Last week I received notes from all the students thanking me for helping them. I also enjoy seeing many of the ideas I passed on being used in the classrooms at my schools.

Getting to Know Catapult Specialized Service Professionals…

Joe Check LCSW – Title I Academic Counselorjoe-check-professional-may2012

  • Chicago IL
  • MEd., Northeastern Illinois U. Center for Inner City Studies
  • MSW, U. of Illinois Chicago, Jane Addams College of Social Work

To which Schools are you assigned?

Santa Lucia Elem. and Leo High School

How is working for Catapult Learning important in meeting your professional goals?

When I retired from a public, suburban, therapeutic school, I found my first love again in private inner city schools serving students and families with special needs and high aspirations. Now I hope to help them achieve their goals in a tough economic period. I also grow in service to my colleagues who are committed and stressed educational professionals.

What is your most recent Catapult Learning success story?

This week on May 19, two seniors will graduate from Leo High School who have participated in the Catapult instructional and counseling program for four years. I played a critical role in their success. They have been accepted by and will attend the college of their choice.

Getting to Know Literacy First Consultants…

Paula M. Whittier – Literacy First Consultantpaula-whittier-lf-may2012-150x150

  • Apopka FL
  • Florida State University, University of Central Florida
  • English, Educational Leadership, Literacy

Why did you become a Literacy First consultant?

I became a Literacy First consultant (part-time) during my last year as a principal in Orange County, FL. I agreed to assist Bill Blokker by inviting selected educators to join his new cadre of literacy consultants. We accepted the challenge, and we still enjoy working for Literacy First and Catapult Learning.

What do you love most about being a consultant?

I enjoy watching our dedicated teacher-clients’ growth in “owning” the reading research. The teachers’ enhanced skill set helps give them the confidence to select, model, and explain how to meet each student’s unique needs by selecting and teaching the literacy skills and tools that are missing from a student’s skill set. The students are happy with their new confidence as a reader. The teacher’s confidence is reinforced with each student’s success with difficult text passages. I see my work as a personal way to touch the future!

What is your greatest Literacy First consulting success story?

I recently completed three years of Intensive Reading training and coaching for teachers in three middle schools. One of my teachers was a history major with a huge heart for struggling readers. She worked very hard to learn HOW to support her students who had difficulty reading the words in their social studies textbook. She chose to employ the Literacy First reading strategies with all of her challenged readers. Her plan was highly successful.

I suggested that the teacher consider registering to take the Praxis exam for reading. She passed the Praxis exam having never taken any reading instruction except that provided via Literacy First Intensive Reading training. She now believes that she has the ability to enhance the reading skills of each of her students. Her experience proved that Literacy First training materials are valuable learning tools for both teachers and students.

What have you learned from your students?

As a first year teacher, I learned years ago that each student possesses “unique qualities” that can strengthen my skills and knowledge. My students taught me to listen carefully to what they have to say and to what they don’t say. My goal is to keep learning from the special gifts I discover in every teacher and student that I meet.

I would like to offer a final note of thanks to all our Spotlight winners…Thank you!  Now it’s your turn.  Please share your thoughts, comments, or congratulations for this month’s winners.  Post to the comments section below!


  1. Stacey May 30, 2012 Reply

    Three cheers for great teachers!

  2. Megan Hermann Whitty May 31, 2012 Reply

    My mom is Kay Hermann (see above) and I am SO PROUD of her and honored to be her daughter. I am also a teacher and I have to say she has always been my biggest fan and supporter. I am so excited to experience the roles being reversed because I now get to be her biggest fan! A huge congrats to her and all the wonderful and amazing teachers being recognized.

    I love you Mom!!

  3. Linda Velie June 2, 2012 Reply

    Paula Whittier has been my hero for 15 years. I am so pleased that you chose her as the first Literacy First Consultant to spotlight. Very deserving! Hugs. LV

    • Debbie Whitfill June 4, 2012 Reply

      Paula Whittier has inspired, nurtured and motivated many of us to be more than we knew we could be! She’s a special friend, wonderful teacher and most deserving of recognition.

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