Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In schools, women are key role models

Best teachers described as dedicated, involved and caring

Express Staff Writer

Wood River Middle School language arts teacher Ginger Rierden is shown with sixth-grade students, from left, Eva Grover, Sascha Leidecker and Kate Stone. Rierden received an “accolade” from another student, Emma Madsen, that was presented at the February regular meeting of the Blaine County School District board of trustees. Madsen praised Rierden in the accolade for helping her find her “voice” and her “whole true self” through writing. Photo by Roland Lane

The presentation of “accolades” is featured at every regular meeting of the Blaine County School District board of trustees. The accolades, in written form, are read aloud, typically by the district superintendent, to recognize the achievements, dedication or excellence of district staff or even outsiders who have contributed to the success of the district and its students.
    Many of the accolades are written to teachers, and certain themes emerge in those testimonials that reveal the traits that make a teacher successful. Dedication and commitment are consistent themes, as is the willingness to go beyond the mere job responsibilities to help students succeed. Another attribute that stands out is the trait of caring on the part of a teacher—genuinely caring about a student’s success in school and a student’s well-being and happiness overall. Some accolades even acknowledge how a teacher changed a student’s life.
    One of the most recent accolades, presented at the March 11 school board meeting, was written to Carey Public School Principal John Peck about high school math teacher Elizabeth Young.
    “Ms. Young opens her classroom to the kids not only with the door, but with the invitation and encouragement to come in and learn,” wrote Carey resident Shawna Parke. “She has spent countless hours with my daughter, her classmates, my other four children previously, along with I don’t even know how many other hundreds of students that have been a part of her classes.
    “She spends the extra time needed—way more than what is required hourly—as a teacher,” Parke wrote. “She never makes her students feel that they are incapable of ‘getting it,’ but does everything she can to instill confidence in their abilities. She never makes them feel like they are a burden for taking up too much of her time or that she has better places to be.”
    Young has been a math teacher for 30 years, which she describes on the Carey School website as 3x+10=100.
    Parke wrote that she hopes that Young stays at Carey school at least another three years so that her daughter can continue to learn from her.
    “Much thanks, you have a wonderful and amazing teacher in your midst,” Parke concluded.
    The trait of genuinely caring about students is also reflected in a Nov. 12, 2013, accolade written by interim Superintendent John Blackman regarding Woodside Elementary School art teacher Joni Cashman, who was recently named Idaho Elementary Art Teacher of the Year by the Idaho Art Education Association.
    “Joni is the consummate professional who always puts the whole of herself into any and all endeavors she undertakes,” Blackman wrote. “She is a person who consistently challenges herself through the acquisition of knowledge and new experiences, which she so passionately imparts to all of her students.
    “I have never seen her make a decision that was not student centered,” Blackman continued. “She has always jumped in and gone beyond the call of duty for the kids and her colleagues. It is safe to say that Joni Cashman ranks amongst the very best educators I have had the privilege to know and work with over the 30 years I have spent in education.”

    Sometimes teachers are described as heroes, such as in an accolade written by Hailey residents Stephanie and Joe Flora and presented to the school board on  May 14, 2013. The Floras describe the teachers and staff at Woodside Elementary School as “amazing heroes to all the kids,” specifically mentioning the dedication of first-grade teacher Amy Sauvageau and fourth-grade teacher Katherine Oliver. The Floras note how much better their sons are doing in school since the family moved from Twin Falls to the Wood River Valley.
    “Carson got an amazing teacher, Mrs. Sauvageau, for kindergarten and now for first grade,” the Floras wrote. “He just adores her, as do we. She does a great job teaching the little ones while having fun and making wonderful memories along the way.”
    The Floras wrote in the accolade that their son AJ was struggling in school until he was placed in Oliver’s class, when AJ did a “180” in his studies.
    “He really loves the way Mrs. Oliver teaches and cares,” the Floras wrote. “He retains the information that she puts out and wants to learn more. He comes home and does his homework without being told 20 times. His grades have improved dramatically and Mrs. Oliver says he participates in class.”
    Sometimes in schools, the act of being a teacher can be applied to staff members who aren’t officially teachers. Such is the case with Bellevue Elementary School special-education paraprofessionals Debbie London and Chandra Barney. The two of them are praised in an Oct. 8, 2013, accolade written by district Curriculum Director Angie Martinez, who previously served as Bellevue principal.
“Debbie and Chandra welcome students to a focused learning environment that encourages the achievement of goals,” Martinez wrote, “They mentor those students and compel them to be their best academically and socially by living the seven habits as learned through the Leader in Me [program]. They truly invest themselves in helping these students learn and grow.”
Martinez further points out that London and Barney are successful in teaching because they “care” about the success and well-being of the students.

Life changer
    Wood River Middle School language arts teacher Ginger Rierden has had more than one accolade written about her. The most recent, presented to the school board on Feb. 11, was written by sixth-grade teacher Emma Madsen, who described how Rierden “changed her life” by helping her discover her true self through writing.
    Madsen describes in the accolade that she lacked confidence in her abilities, particularly at writing, but that Rierden helped her find her voice and discover “an important piece of herself.”
    Much of the accolade is written by Madsen describing herself in third voice.
    “The girl didn’t know how to thank the teacher, for the teacher had changed her life, helped discover the girl’s true self and she was utterly thankful,” Madsen wrote.
    “So here I am writing this story, and I hope this was a good enough thank you; because I know that no matter what I won’t be able to thank you enough.”

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