Educator Spotlight – May 2014

educator spotlightEducator Spotlight

Announcing the May 2014 Educator Spotlight honorees! Congratulations to our educators as they end another great school year!

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

  • Kyle Alexander – St. Louis, MO
  • Stan Baker – Belleview, FL
  • Jill Boudreau – Orlando, FL
  • Lynn Colley – St. Louis, MO
  • Chris Franks – Teacher- Austin, TX
  • Heather Greenlaw-Baggs – Teacher- Tampa, FL
  • Sue Hooper – Oklahoma City, OK
  • Kia King – Orlando, FL
  • Marlena Kokin – Sunrise, FL
  • Diane Lavin – Teacher- Dallas, TX
  • Lanita Myers – Irwin, PA
  • Kaitlyn Swanegan – St. Louis, MO
  • Mimi Thames – St. Louis, MO

Kyle Alexander-Headshot-may2014 - Copy - Copy - CopyKyle Alexander- Teacher

  • St. Louis, MO
  • Music Education (K-12); William Jewell College

Why did you become a teacher?

For the longest time I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I knew I was hugely gifted in the area of music and that I absolutely loved working with children/young adults. Knowing that, I decided teaching with an emphasis in music would be a great place to start. I truly believe that education is the greatest gift you could possibly give to an individual and I want to be able to pass on my knowledge and passion for education in any subject area. Teaching for me, is the ability to connect with students, from different backgrounds and different perspectives, within the same safe environment.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I’m sure everyone says this, but I think the small class sizes are ideal for individualized instruction. Everything today is about differentiated instruction and within a class of 25-35 that becomes more difficult. More students are able to slide between the cracks of our education system. With the small classes of 4-6 it is almost impossible for students to be a wallflower and they are forced (in a caring manner) to face their weaknesses and struggles. The personal connections are also vital to this program. These students come to trust us and respect us because we believe in them and tell them they CAN.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

To refrain naming names I’m going to super summarize this monumental moment in my (very early) teaching career. A student of mine told me, rather nonchalantly, that I was his favorite teacher. To understand my response you would have to know that my relationship with the student was one riddled with sarcasm and silliness. I replied, “Am I your favorite because I don’t yell at you?” My fourth grade student blurted back, “No that’s not why.” He went further into his elaboration which I cannot recall verbatim, but it involved the aspects of being caring, being proud of him, being passionate, and most of all (as most students would agree) being fun. This is a student who went from truly detesting me (so I thought) to openly admitting me, and others, that I was his favorite teacher. He has truly touched my life more than he will ever know.

What have you learned from your students?

My students have taught me a great deal about music specifically musical artists that I have never heard of. That was one of the ways they opened up to me and let me into their lives. More specifically, my students have taught me that laughter is the best medicine. They have shown me that anything is possible with determination and heart. My students remind me to dream big and speak with conviction. While most of these concepts are basics in any “lesson learned,” it’s been refreshing to see them played out amongst elementary schools students.

Stan Baker-Headshot-May2014Stan Baker- Teacher

  • Belleview, FL
  • Current student at Walden University (Ed.S. Leadership for Social Change); BA Religious Education, Davis College; MS Theology, Dallas Seminary

Why did you become a teacher?

To have long-term influence on the world and culture, one must invest in influencing younger generations in positive ways. Teaching has granted me the privilege of encouraging and empowering fellow learners to draw upon inner motivations to wrestle with the big and small questions of life. There is no greater privilege as a learner and teacher than to help others learn and develop, and then for them to become teachers or other kinds of influencers. Of course we teach English Language Arts and other academic subjects at Catapult Academy, but some of the most powerful lessons for our students (who are former high school drop-outs) have to do with how to become a motivated, inquisitive, and disciplined lifelong learner. It is a big set of steps to go from high school drop-out to high school student (with all the attendant behaviors, responsibilities, and self-expectations) to high school graduate. I am a teacher at Catapult because it is deeply rewarding to support students in taking these these steps. Plus, our students need caring, committed, consistent, and competent teachers to support them each step of the way. That is the kind of teacher I aspire and strive to become.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I love that we give young people who have bailed on school (and perhaps failed) a chance at redemption, a second, third, or fourth opportunity to keep going in the positive direction of earning a high school diploma. I love to see it when an inner bulb lights up in a student and they sense hope in their ability to succeed in this journey.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

In one sense, every day offers a mini-success story. Whenever students take a step, whatever step they take next, leads them toward their own success. For some it is enrolling to get back into high school. For others, it is overcoming the tendency to skip school. For others, it is figuring out how to regulate themselves moment by moment to pay attention to their studies rather than their social circle.

One student was routinely disruptive, and he had a history of not functioning well in ANY school, but he would come to the Academy. Day after day he would come, often being talkative and disruptive and anything but focused on his work. But he would come to school. Sure, he was not always motivated by “school,” but he came. This young man was pretty good in math. While he was talkative and disruptive when it came to his own work, he was extraordinarily helpful and engaged when he would be given the opportunity to assist or mentor another student who was struggling with a math assignment. I would always tell him he could be a teacher someday. I have since moved on from that teaching site, and I do not know if he will finish high school. But I do know he had days when he saw his true potential, and he learned lessons that will help him overcome his challenges and succeed in life.

What have you learned from your students?

I continue to learn that changing personal habits and routines is difficult but not impossible. Such change is what learning is all about. Our students who have already dropped out of school at least once have many challenges to overcome. Those challenges are both external and internal to themselves. But challenges can be overcome. The keys for our students (as for most people) is to surround them with affirmation and encouragement, to call them to face their challenges and grow through them, and to give them a clear next step to take. The world will be a better place when we take the time each day to encourage someone in his journey toward success.

Jill Boudreau-Headshot-May2014Jill Boudreau- Teacher

  • Orlando, FL
  • Secondary Education, English; Kansas State University

Why did you become a teacher?

I became a teacher for so many reasons! I have a long line of teachers and educators in my family, so teaching was always a potential career choice. However, my Senior year in high school I had an English teacher who not only captured my interest academically, but also supportive through some very difficult personal times. That was when I thought, “Wow, I want to do that!”

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I love the students! Seeing them succeed is the most rewarding moment; it really makes even the worst day worth it in the end. I also love the ‘aha’ moment when a student grasps a new concept or gets really excited about something they learned.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

I had a student join my classroom this school year after being expelled for fighting on campus the year before. When she arrived, she was a little bitter still. But as she found success in her classes she began to open up more and I could see her showing more responsibility and ownership of her education and herself. While she was excelling in the classroom, outside of school she was struggling with family issues: a brother constantly in trouble and mother she didn’t always get along with. The student came in the next week and told me she had been picked up for shoplifting (she had briefly ran away from home and didn’t have anything to wear she said). She was assigned to Teen Court, where she had to complete hours of community service, write an essay on her actions and write a letter to her brother as an apology for setting a poor example. I could see that the experience really got to her, and oddly enough assisted her in reconciling with her mom. After that incident, I worked with her even more on her school work but we would spend extra time talking and working on life skills she needed post-graduation. We worked on a resume, job interview skills and had many conversations about accountability for ones actions. It was during that time that I saw a huge change in her.

She called me one afternoon ecstatic because she finally had gotten a job. It was the motivation she needed to push just a tiny bit harder in school so she could finish. Now, she has completed all of her credits, passed the FCAT and is ready to graduate! It is always exciting to see your students walk across that stage, but seeing this girl succeed will make it even better this year.

What have you learned from your students?

I honestly have learned so many things from my students, but I think two things stand out the most:

Not to take anything for granted and to relax a little, not take myself so seriously.

Some of these students have been through so many challenges in their lives, and that really does inspire me and remind me that I am so very lucky in so many ways.

Lynn Colley headshot-may2014 - Copy - CopyLynn Colley- Teacher

  • St. Louis, MO
  • BFA Theatre Performance, University of Evansville; MA Drama, Washington University;

Why did you become a teacher?

I love education, I always have. I love the diversity, working and interacting with others, and continually learning. I wish I could say that my motives were purely altruistic, but I get so much from my students! They are continually teaching me, and continually challenging me to reevaluate what I know (or think I know) to be more effective for them. I love that teaching provides routine and structure, but there is also so much room for flexibility and creativity!

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I realized when I was teaching in the UK how fortunate I had been in my own education. It was a humbling and eye opening experience working with students who did not have access to the same opportunities I have had. What I love so much about Catapult is I now get to play a part in exposing learners to a high standard of education. I love the way our program is structured and can see the students succeeding! They can too! I think Catapult has opened up possibilities for all of those who have been involved with the St. Louis program. I love how positive and solution-focused the program is. I am especially grateful for the wonderful leadership we have had under Christine Rhodes, Collen Woolfork, and Amy Beabout!

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

Well, I think overall I’m thrilled with how so many of our students have progressed—especially within their own confidence! I’ve had some students make significant gains from the pre to post-tests. However, I suppose I’m particularly pleased with the progress of one of my six students. She started out refusing to come to sessions, and she was continually in trouble with the school during the day. Once she started coming to sessions regularly and having some success, she realized how beneficial small group was and she was more willing to take risks and try. While her behavioral choices sometimes still pose a challenge, she has really learned how to maintain control of herself and has displayed a real willingness to learn and achieve! She is much better at taking correction and is starting to employ self-correction, which is exciting to see. During her recent IEP meeting, I was asked to be a mentor to her, since she was responding so well to me and with our small group tuition. The way she has made conscientious steps to improve her behavior and risked (because for her it is a real risk) in trusting me and our program to help her succeed—well, I think that is pretty special!

What have you learned from your students?

Oh so much! They have helped me think up and learn new ways of teaching and approaching learning. They have caused me to reflect about areas in which they struggle and how I can help them overcome or at least expose them to new ways of thinking. They have given me insight into their ways of thinking and how that impacts them within an educational setting. I have a much clearer idea of their needs and how to meet them because of what they have shared with me and their groups over the year. I have become much better at managing behavior (although they are also teaching me I have more room to grow here). Mostly they have demonstrated an unbelievable capacity for bravery—for trusting and taking the risk of trying—which for so many is no small feat. I’m impressed by their willingness and desire for self-improvement.

Christopher Franks-Headshot-may2014Chris Franks – Teacher

  • Austin, TX

Why did you become a teacher?

I am an electrical engineer and retired after 41 years. As a marketing engineer and customer service manager for Hewlett Packard, I taught Sunday school to the 7th-9th grade girls and boys and was a cub master, both for 6 years. I drove from New Jersey to Colorado 4 times a year to teach new salespeople how new products work. I have always wanted to be a high school physics teacher but the pay was only $1,200 per year.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

There are both tutors and students from all diverse backgrounds and various age groups. I feel that I am making a difference in my world.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

I was able to convert the Catapult Achieve Math material to media that was suitable for a visually-impaired student; he has finished Volume 2, Level 8. I also convinced a minority “I hate math” student to learn it anyway and she was my “student of the month” with a 100% average last period.

What have you learned from your students?

Some who are turned off by “conventional” math curricula are reachable via the math in music, the golden ratio in art, scientific relationships, the statistics of politics, and popular video games.

Heather Greenlaw Baggs-Headshot-May2014Heather Greenlaw-Baggs – Teacher

  • Tampa, FL
  • B.S. Elementary Education; Florida State University

Why did you become a teacher?

In school, when I had difficulty understanding math, I would seek help from my math teacher.  This strategy did not work for me. I began to  seek help from my biology teacher during study hall. He was able to explain the math in a variety of ways.  I understood the concepts and processes completely and made good grades. I wanted to be the teacher students would go to when they didn’t understand the first or second time a topic was explained.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I love small group instruction and long term relationships with students and their parents.

Small group instruction allows me to reteach each topic using a variety of techniques throughout the year.

Students love to learn using manipulatives. They also love learning tips and tricks such as finger multiplication, acronyms for processes and mnemonic devices. I also enjoy watching students thrive and mature over the span of many years. I am able to build a special rapport with the students and their families over the span of several years.  I am able to offer insights about a student’s learning style, strengths , and motivational techniques to teachers and parents.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

Toward the end of the school year, a student remarked, “Wow, I didn’t know I was this smart” after completing a difficult multi-step math problem.

What have you learned from your students?

I have learned that my enthusiasm for teaching a topic has a direct impact on their desire to learn that topic.  A first grader told me she could tell I liked consonant digraphs more than blends because I made the digraph lessons funnier.

Sue Hooper-HeadshotSue Hooper- Literacy First Consultant

  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • BA Business Economics, Southwestern Oklahoma State University; MA Elementary Education & MA Educational Administration, Oklahoma State University

How did you become a Literacy First consultant?

I wrote a Phase IV grant for our elementary school and received funding to work with Liz Sheerer our consultant. Between Liz and Sherry Davis, a former elementary principal I knew, I became interested in the process of guiding teachers to a better understanding of teaching and specifically literacy.

What do you love most about being a consultant for Literacy First?

The opportunities I have been given to continue to grow and learn with other adults to help improve instruction in our schools. The trainings we participate in, as consultants are invigorating to me. I get pumped breaking down a process for specifically teaching skills or mentoring leaders in a school. Every time I walk into a school I love the feeling of being in a place where students learn, teachers teach and leaders lead.    

What is your greatest Literacy First consulting success story?  

I don’t have one special moment to share, but I love the evolution of moving adult conversations in a school from generalities to specifics. Hearing teachers speak about skills students have mastered and skills students are still challenged by is very rewarding. When teachers make this shift I feel they have moved to a deeper understanding of their job and what to do next. When they ask colleagues for advice it is time for celebrations!

What have you learned from your experience as a consultant?

Working with adults is challenging and rewarding. Monitoring and providing immediate feedback is the best way to help grow and strengthen adult capacity for change. Celebrating and encouraging growth is vital to change. Setting goals and charting success helps! Leaders in a building make the difference. A sense of humor and deep love of children is the key to survival and success!

Kia King Headshot-2Kia King- Teacher

  • Orlando, FL
  • B.S. Architectural Studies; Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Why did you become a teacher?

As a child I was always interested in art and design. These interests eventually led me to college where I majored in architecture. After college I immediately began working. When I was not “working” I was the art teacher at my church during the summers in addition to the youth Sunday School teacher. In 2008, an unexpected career change gave me the opportunity to explore different career options. In 2010, I began working in education as an administrative assistant and a registrar. After one year in education I decided to start my certification process to become a teacher with the hopes of making a positive influence in the lives of students.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

Teaching for Catapult Learning allows me the opportunity to stimulate a positive change in the lives of high school students who need extra academic support and overall encouragement.   The majority of my students have come from traditional high school settings that did not work best for them for some reason, but here, at Catapult Learning, I am able to teach in an alternative learning environment specific to each student.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

For the past three years I have had the privilege of teaching juniors and seniors. I celebrate my students each time they complete a course, but I get a little happier when they advance in grade level or graduate. I have watched my junior students express a big smile on their faces or perform a little dance when they finally become seniors and I have listened to my near-graduating seniors ask in elated disbelief when they complete their last course exam if they were really finished with high school—these are my greatest success stories!

What have you learned from your students?

-All students are good at something

-Students need to hear encouragement

-Students want teachers that genuinely care about them

-Students appreciate when you go above and beyond for them, even if they don’t verbally say so

Marlena Kokin-HeadshotMarlena Kokin- Teacher

  • Sunrise, FL
  • BA Psychology; M.Ed. Elementary Education

Why did you become a teacher?

I became a teacher because as a struggling student in my early years, I realized that I could make a difference in the lives of my students in the same way my teachers made a difference in mine.  In addition, education has come a long way.  A teacher today serves as a facilitator; students are taught to think critically and problem-solve using concepts and skills they have learned and apply them to real life solutions.  This is the perfect formula to promote continued growth as well as prepare them to be productive adults.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

There are many things I love about teaching for Catapult.  I am very pleased that my supervisor, Fran Banner, has been a positive leader, as she is building rapport and working very diligently to attend to what is required for the success of the Title I program, Catapult Learning, teachers and students.  The Catapult program addresses the needs of students that require additional support.  Families who cannot afford a costly private tutor are able to receive it at no cost.  The student is able to academically advance and “catch up” in their regular classroom setting since the Catapult program is in line with the school curriculum.  The schedule is flexible and I have the opportunity to teach both Reading and Math in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

My greatest Catapult Learning success story is a recurring one.  Every time I experience students sharing their academic achievement or simply express an “I got it!” moment in class, is the greatest moment.  The development and self-motivation to be the best student they can be is an extension of that moment.

What have you learned from your students?

What I have learned from my students is that they all possess special qualities, abilities, and learn differently.  Understanding the essence of each student has a greater potential of creating meaningful experiences- affording them the opportunities to make connections and providing depth of learning.  My students expect me to be fair and to have compassion and understanding, and are clear that I have high expectations of each and every one of them.  Also, never believe that one’s teaching efforts have been in vain; a student will surprise you and express how much they learned and enjoyed your teaching!

Diane Lavin-HeadshotDiane Lavin – Teacher

  • Dallas, TX
  • BA Elementary Education

Why did you become a teacher?

I’ve always had an interest in working with children with learning disabilities. It’s a struggle for them and is often times hidden with the students not getting the help they need, or it being delivered too late. However, I think the education system is doing a much better job at identifying learning disabled students at an earlier age and giving them the support they need.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I think it’s a great organization. We’re providing a service to those students who need help but are not low enough to qualify for special education. I like that the curriculum is based on best practices in education.  I’m also given the freedom to teach content in a style that best fits the student. I don’t have to use the scripted lessons like some other companies demand. I work with some wonderful teachers and have a supervisor that is very supportive. It’s been a good fit for me.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

I’ve worked with several students that were diagnosed with dyslexia. The second grade students made great progress, going through the entire year’s curriculum. More importantly, the skills and knowledge transferred over and the classroom teacher saw the growth as well. They were able to successfully complete classroom assignments which greatly impacted their level of confidence.

What have you learned from your students?

One teaching approach does not work for everyone. You have to look at each child individually and find their strengths and learning styles as well as their challenges, then work from there. Relationships are everything. If you don’t have a good relationship with the child, you are not going to be as effective as you can be.

Lanita Myers-Headshot-May2014Lanita Myers- School Nurse

  • Irwin, PA
  • B.S. Nursing; West Virginia Wesleyan College

How long have you been with Catapult Learning?

Four Years

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

My position is at Queen of Angels Catholic School. I provide direct nursing care to students. That includes administering medications, diabetic testing and insulin administration and managing any other health concerns that arise during the day. I gather and update all of the students’ medical files from year to year. I help monitor vaccine requirements by the state with the district nurse. I perform the yearly screenings and documentation (height, weight, BMI, scoliosis, etc) for K- 8th grade. I also present the “growing up” class to the 5th grade.

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

I came to Catapult as a pediatric nurse who had taken off a few years to raise her children. I was able to find this position that offered flexibility in my schedule while still working with pediatric patients.

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

After I began at Queen of Angels, I noticed an important need in this school that had four floors with no elevator. The school only had one AED located in the Gym. I was instrumental in working with the district nurse and principal in obtaining AED’s on three levels of the building. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to participate with the committee that was developing a disaster plan at the school. I worked with them to develop the “disaster medical kits.”

My greatest success story involved a Kindergarten student who was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. At such a young age, this was a difficult struggle for the child and the family, both mentally and physically. We began with insulin injections at school and graduated quickly by 1st grade to an insulin pump. This student is now an intelligent, happy, vibrant, well-adjusted child ready to enter the 4th grade next year. The hurdles yet to come in the pre-pubescent years are in front of the student and can be quite a struggle to be “normal.” This student is ready to face her daily challenges with confidence and embrace life with “spunk.” Children are so resilient and are inspiring every day.     

Kaitlyn Swanegan-Headshot-May2014Kaitlyn Swanegan- Teacher

  • St.Louis, MO
  • M.S.Ed. in Learning, Teaching, and Curriculum; University of Missouri- Columbia

What is your prior teaching experience?

I became a teacher because I wanted to change children’s lives. I know what a positive impact my teachers had on my life and I wanted to be that positive light for my students.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?

I really love working with small groups of children. It has been an honor to teach the students reading because as an adult I know that reading is the foundation for success. The curriculum challenges the students but is also fast paced so the students are never bored. I love that I can challenge them and be there for their “aha” moment!

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

I feel like there are small successes every day because my students love coming to class. One of my fifth graders told me I was her hero. She said I made reading fun and it had never been fun before. I am so proud of her and the growth she has made this year!

What have you learned from your students?

I have learned so much from my students and their life experiences. I am grateful for their loving hearts and compassion they show. I work with students who have been through a lot, but the fact that they are excited to come to my class makes me work even harder to provide them with the best instruction, love, and fun that I can.

mimi thames headshot-may2014 - CopyMimi Thames- Teacher

  • St. Louis, MO
  • Harris-Stowe State University

Why did you become a teacher?

I came from a legacy of teachers. My mother was my first teacher and best friend and because of that I wanted to emulate her. As long as I can remember I wanted to be a teacher while other little girls wanted to be a singer or a nurse, I played school. Of course I was always the teacher and my students were all of my dolls. I love learning new things and finding new ways to explain it. I love giving love and receiving that love back from my students.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?    

What I love most about teaching for Catapult is the 1 to 4 ratio. The individual attention I can give to only having 4 students at a time is the best. I’m able to ensure the each student is learning and retaining what I teach.

What is your greatest Catapult Learning teaching success story?

One of the parents at the award center came up to me and said that since her son has been coming to Catapult she has seen such a tremendous growth in him academically and his self confidence has grown. He went from frowning to smiling.

What have you learned from your students?

  • Getting the right students make a big difference
  • That Catapult Learning is the ICU of Education
  • Catapult/I make a difference in the success of our students

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

Thanks again to all of this month’s honorees! You can thank them too, please leave your comments for our educators below!

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