Educator Spotlight – April 2015

Educator Spotlight

educator spotlightAnnouncing the April 2015 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 Catapult colleagues in recognition of the positive impact they have on children and schools throughout the country. They are our very own shining stars!

  • Joan Allen – Teacher – Jacksonville, FL
  • Cynthia Fingrutd – Teacher – New Hope, PA
  • Christine Kudia – Teacher – Chicago, IL
  • Paula Levin – Teacher – Portland, OR
  • Erin Lawrence – Consultant – Los Angeles, CA
  • Eulia Lowe-Neal – Teacher – St. Louis, MO
  • Janelle Moore – Literacy First Consultant – Olathe, KS
  • Mark Parabue – Teacher – St. Louis, MO
  • Patti Perisho – Teacher – Chicago, IL

Joan Allen pictureJoan Allen – Teacher

  • Jacksonville, Florida
  • Literature and Political Science, Mercer University

Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher to share my passion for literature and writing. Over time, I realized that the true role of a teacher is to help a student develop the skills to succeed in life.  So many students face enormous obstacles to success, and I feel honored to play a part in helping them.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
I love being able to work closely with my students, and I love seeing their growth. In the classroom setting, I was sometimes frustrated by not being able to give each student sufficient individual attention. With Catapult Learning, I never have that nagging feeling at the end of the day that I did not really get to address the needs of all of my students.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
This year, I have a wonderful student who was practically non-verbal at the beginning of the year. He is now answering questions using complete sentences, and he sometimes even initiates a conversation!  Being a part of the team that has helped him has been an amazing experience.

What have you learned from your students?
Everyone has challenges and everyone has gifts. Patience and kindness can help our students deal with their challenges so they can discover their gifts.

Cynthia FingrudtCynthia Fingrutd – Teacher

  • New Hope, Pennsylvania
  • B.A. Sociology, Gettysburg College; M.S. Education, Gwydedd-Mercy College

Why did you become a teacher?
My father always told me that education is the key to anything you want in life, so I knew that a career in education would be a very important and fulfilling choice. I wanted to be the person who provided that gift or key to children, especially to the children who are struggling. The accomplishments of children who work so hard to learn basic foundation skills are very rewarding and the appreciation from their parents is heart-warming. It was an easy career choice for me: put my two loves—children and education—together as a job and career.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
Small-group instruction gives me an opportunity to get to know students and their families, which helps me understand where a child is coming from, family issues that can be affecting a child, and the level of support at home. These are all critical pieces for a child’s academic success. I also have the luxury of focusing on a student’s individual needs and that translates into increased self-esteem along with their academic success.  I love the moments when I can see students’ achievements in Catapult give them the longed-for confidence in their classroom!

What is your greatest teaching success story?
This past March was Catapult Month and one of the activities that I did with students was an Ice Cream Cone Reading Challenge. There was one student who just amazed me with his determination in this activity. Each student was given a cone to decorate and hang on the wall of the classroom. They were given “scoops” of ice cream to take home and, for every book they read, they would write the name of the book, color the scoop, and bring it in to add to their cone. The biggest cone (most books read) won a gift certificate for a local ice cream shop. This particular first-grade boy had been struggling all year with decoding words and becoming fluent in his reading. Once the contest started, he read everything he could get his hands on and even had his mother take him to a bookstore so that he could sit there and read numerous books. By the end of the contest, he had read 22 books and won the prize! His joy at his accomplishment was so evident in his huge smile! His reading skills have improved exponentially, as well!

What have you learned from your students?
One of the most important lessons I have learned from Catapult students is the great extent that learning difficulties can affect children, their families, their self-esteem, and their success in life. If I can help make those difficulties become less challenging for students, I can affect many areas of their lives and that’s a job to be proud of.

Christine Kudia – Teacher

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • B.S. Elementary Education with endorsements in Language Arts, Mathematics & Science, Loyola University Chicago

Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher to influence future citizens of the world and to make learning a positive experience for children, especially those who may be struggling learners.

What do you love most about teaching?
The small-group setting allows me to bond with the students in a unique way that is different from a traditional classroom setting. It is wonderful to have long-standing relationships with many of the families and students in the school from year to year. For many of the students, coming to the Title I classroom “Learning Lab” is the highlight of their day.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
While many of the students in the school want to be in my program, each year I have a few that are reluctant to participate. I look at it as a challenge to get those few students motivated to engage in group learning activities.  My greatest NESI teaching story is taking a child in the beginning of the year who was unconfident, non-responsive, and reluctant to speak in front of the group to seeing that same child blossom by the end of the year into an interested and engaged learner who freely raises their hand and wants to participate in learning activities.

Having parents approach me and say, “My child loves coming to your class! You completely changed their attitude towards learning,” has been a strong personal motivator for me.  Also having past students who are now in high school come back to thank me personally, let me know how they are doing and give advice to my current students has been very rewarding to witness.

What have you learned from your students?
My students have taught me important life lessons such as not to give up when tasks seem unbearable, there is more than one “right” way to solve a problem, and practice makes perfect.

Paula_LevinPaula Levin – Teacher

  • Portland, Oregon
  • Elementary Education

Why did you become a teacher?
I decided that I wanted to be a teacher after my first day of kindergarten. As I grew older, I never wavered in my desire to work with children. I wanted to share with them the joy and wonder that they experience when truly understanding a concept for the first time.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
I love working with small groups of students and forming a trust that allows them to ask for help without any fear of criticism. I also find it very rewarding to work with the same students as they progress from grade to grade, helping them to grow and develop their skills.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
I have worked for Catapult Learning for over 30 years, which makes it very difficult to pinpoint just one success story. During this time, students have written letters to me about the impact that I have had on their lives. I still keep in touch with many of them, even after they graduate and continue their education careers in high school and college. Each one of their successes is mine as well.

What have you learned from your students?
I have learned that most students who need additional support have a great work ethic and the ability to persevere. I know that people often think these students are at a disadvantage academically. I see them as more likely to achieve their goals because they already know how to work hard for something that doesn’t come easily to them.

Erin LawrenceErin Lawrence –  Consultant

  • Los Angeles, California
  • Biological Sciences, University of Rochester

What is your prior teaching experience?
I taught for eight years as an elementary school teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District. I’ve also taught high school biology and chemistry on and off for the past four years.

Why did you decide to become a coach?
I decided to become a coach because I like to support people in fulfilling what’s important to them. It’s rewarding to see people achieve the kind of success that they thought wasn’t couldn’t achieve otherwise. My favorite part is watching as teachers go through the process of transforming the way they relate to themselves as teachers, the way they relate to their students, and they way they relate to learning itself. In the end, it’s satisfying to see results as a product of increased student success and enhanced student motivation.

Why do you feel coaching is a valuable professional development experience for teachers?
I think that a truly valuable coaching experience can actually be very uncomfortable at times.  Any time growth happens, there is a tricky moment that comes before that, as we confront our ideas that have been holding us back. As professionals, we confront that moment quite often when things don’t go the way we planned, or we don’t get the results we want. Maybe one of our students didn’t achieve the rate of success that we had set for that particular lesson. It takes courage to confront what’s not working and to make changes.

I think what makes the coaching experience so valuable is that when the coach is convinced that success can occur, the coach can hold that space for the teacher until they reach the success that makes the difference for the kids in their class. It’s just a matter of tweaking something until it works. Coaching is similar to any other kind of problem solving or troubleshooting—but the difference is that teachers have a partner in the coach who has already figured out how to solve the problem and achieve the desired results.

What is your most rewarding Catapult Learning coaching success story?
Last year, I worked with a district in Los Angeles to integrate Disciplinary Literacy into their current instructional practices. After modeling a few close reading lessons, teachers tried similar lessons in their classrooms. When I came back, one of the teachers, who had been consistently using close reading every week, exclaimed that her students were finally reading grade-level text—something she hadn’t seen before. Given that most students in her class were tested well below grade level, this change was very significant. It always makes me happy when teachers see themselves as the change agents in their classrooms and they have student results to prove it.

Eulia Lowe-NealEulia Lowe-Neal – Teacher

  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • Elementary Education, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Why did you become a teacher?
That’s a good question. I guess I became a teacher because I love children and have always enjoyed working with them. I want to share my love of education with students and help them to at least see the importance of education.  I will remain a teacher because our children need someone who will be their champion and will help them believe in themselves and succeed in school and life. If I can be the champion for just a few children, than I will consider myself a success.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
I love getting to work with a variety of students from different grade levels and abilities. They all bring something unique to the group instruction time. I love how the students enjoy coming to the Catapult Learning program and learning new information and skills. Overall, I love that Catapult helps students to fill in gaps in skill sets and knowledge, which the students are then able to take back to the classroom and succeed.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
My greatest Catapult teaching success took place this school year (2014/2015) while working with a fourth-grade student. This particular student came into the program as a self-proclaimed non-reader. It was like pulling teeth just to get her to take the CLCCIT pre-test, let alone participate during lessons. In her own words she said, “I don’t read, not at home or at school, and especially not out loud!” She was very clear that she had no need to improve her reading because she was never going to read. However, after about one month of coming to the Catapult program, she started to change. She began to actively participate in discussions, complete her work, and read aloud. She was reading aloud not just when asked to, but she was volunteering and was genuinely excited about the topics we were discussing and improving her reading. To me that is just AWESOME!

What have you learned from your students?
My students have taught me that building a relationship with your students is crucial to classroom, teacher, and student success! Without having a relationship with your students, everything is a little bit harder. When you take the time to get to know them and show you care, they are willing to work harder, believe in themselves more, and find more success in their education. They also taught me not to take things so seriously. : )

Janelle Moore_Page_1Janelle Moore – Literacy First Consultant

  • Olathe, Kansas
  • B.S. Elementary Education, Kansas Newman University; M.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction, Wichita State University

How did you become a Literacy First consultant?
The Literacy First process was implemented K-12 in the district in which I worked in Kansas. The assistant principal and I chose Literacy First to support our content area teachers as well as our most struggling readers through Intensive Reading. I’ve seen the three-year process implemented in all grades, K-12, and have witnessed the instructional strategies build a culture of learning for both teachers and administrators and close the gaps in reading for middle-level readers. The transformation in our district was incredible, and I knew I wanted to be a part of such an extraordinary group of people all focused on understanding and improving the educational process.

What do you love most about being a consultant for Literacy First?
I love that it works! It is a process that honors the knowledge teachers already have and builds teacher capacity from that point to make them even more knowledgeable and proficient. I love that it is a wide compilation of research-based strategies that have been proven to work. I love that it is across all disciplines and builds a culture within the school. Mostly, I love the consulting component of Literacy First. I believe it sets Literacy First apart from other school improvement efforts.

What is your greatest Literacy First consulting success story?
It is difficult to choose a single instance. When in consultation with teachers regarding instruction, teachers share different strategies they have implemented in the classroom and are anxious to describe how well it worked and the positive impact it had on student engagement and student learning. To me, success is watching a school’s staff collectively focus on improvement while creating a culture of learning.

What have you learned from your experience as a consultant?
I’ve learned the importance of building trust and relationships when attempting to implement change. Without trust there will be no connection, without connection change is impossible.

mark pabarueMark Parabue – Teacher

  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • B.S. and MBA, Business Administration

Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher because I saw the need for positive male role models in the public school system.  I have always been engaged in the educational process through volunteering and mentoring in my community. As a parent with a young child, I wanted to touch the lives of other young individuals within my community and I saw education a tool to bring forth positive change to this next generation of leaders.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
I truly enjoy working with a diverse group of students from different social backgrounds and educational levels.  I feel that students in the Catapult Learning program truly enjoy learning and are always seeking different perspectives of accruing knowledge and understanding of the subject matter that is being taught.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
My greatest teacher success story was having four of my five fifth-grade students make the honor roll and score proficient of their quarterly school assessment.

What have you learned from your students?
I have learned that not all students learn in the same manner and each student should have an individualized learning plan. I have also learned that along with guidance, students also need to feel that someone truly cares about their growth in the educational process.  I do my best to show my students that I really care about them as individuals and in being successful at anything they want to accomplish in school and in life.

Patti PerishoPatti Perisho – Teacher

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Elementary Education, University of Illinois at Chicago

Why did you become a teacher?
I always knew I wanted to work with children. In college, I considered a few other majors but settled on education.  As soon as my student teaching began, I knew I had made the right decision. I can’t imagine being anything but a teacher.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
I love that I get to work with small groups. It is rewarding to be able to give individual attention to a student who can’t get that in a full classroom setting. I also love that, because I have been teaching at the same school for nine years, I see the students grow up right in front of me. I have even had some students all nine years. I have their siblings and get to know their parents. It is a special bond that I get to establish with them over time.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
It’s hard to choose one specific story as I have had many challenges over the years. One that comes to mind is a boy who is now in eighth grade. He started here in fourth grade, and his math skills were several grades below.  He also had a very hard time admitting when he didn’t understand and accepting help. I am very proud that he is now comfortable participating and asking questions during class. He eventually saw that I was there to help and that I don’t tolerate students who make others feel bad about themselves. I feel like I gave him a safe place to admit that he needed the help and to let me help him.

What have you learned from your students?
I have learned that every child has something to offer. No one is a lost cause.


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