BRIGHTON — It is no secret that individuals do not choose the field of teaching for the salary. There is an inherent passion that drives a person to say, “I want to be a teacher.”
Effective teaching practices that promote the well-being of students are not written somewhere in a manual as a step-by-step guide on how to become a great teacher. This effectiveness comes from within and creates a spark between a student and a teacher.
Each year, a few individuals at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School (PECS) who have superseded daily expectations are chosen by their colleagues to represent the school as Teachers and Non-Instructional Employees of the Year.
This year’s Pemayetv Emahakv Elementary Teacher of the Year is Victoria “Vicki” Paige.
Paige, a second-grade teacher at PECS, is in her 34th year of teaching. She is a two-time school Teacher of the Year, earning her first award at Seminole Elementary in 1991. She comes from a family of educators, as both her parents were teachers at various points in their professional careers.
“They always emphasized what an admirable profession teaching was,” she said.
Paige has always had a passion for working with children and spent her earlier years working various jobs at camps, day cares and children’s hospitals. Before PECS was built, Paige spent many years tutoring Seminole students after school at Seminole Elementary. She was invited by former principal Russ Brown to visit the Charter School, and she realized the school provided a unique learning environment. She wanted to be a part of it.
Paige enjoys teaching her second-grade, all-boys class because she is very experienced with higher grades and the preparation process for the FCAT. She uses her experience with the standardized test to prepare students and their parents for meeting the demands of third grade and beyond, which places a great deal of emphasis on the FCAT.
“My goal is to prepare the students and enlighten the parents of the rigors of the third-grade curriculum and daunting FCAT assessments,” she said. “Though I am cognizant of standardized testing and its importance, I never lose sight of the needs of the whole child.”
She looks for new and exciting ways to “flip on the learning switch” for each of her students and feels privileged to earn Teacher of the Year.
“Being named Teacher of the Year for Pemayetv Emahakv has been a great honor,” she said. “Knowing that the equally dedicated and highly professional individuals I work with supported my nomination was indeed a humbling experience.”
The school also recognized Quentin Pritchard as Middle School Teacher of the Year.
Pritchard teaches sixth- through eighth-grade social studies; he is also an adjunct history professor at Indian River State College.
It was the small classroom size and high-tech environment that enticed Pritchard to leave the high school setting and return to teaching middle school at PECS.
“As a social studies teacher, I had a keen interest in working with my Native American students because I believe that it is important for them to appreciate their culture and history,” he said. “My main focus, however, will be to help them appreciate what the Tribe does for them and what they can do to make themselves better members and give back to the Tribe.”
Although history is not tested on the FCAT, Pritchard has started preparing students for the 2014-2015 school year, which will require every seventh-grader to pass an end-of-course exam, or EOC, before leaving middle school.
“My big focus in the years to come will be to integrate more technology into my lessons. It is always good to stay a step ahead,” Pritchard said. “It means (so) much to be recognized by my peers and colleagues, but I feel that I am only a part of a very special team of middle school teachers.”
The foundation of Pemayetv Emahakv was built on preserving the Tribe’s culture and language, and Jade Braswell Osceola, this year’s Cultural Teacher of the Year, is part of the driving force behind this preservation.
Osceola teaches Seminole history to first through eighth grades at the Charter School. In addition, she teaches an after-school Creek language class for high school students seeking to earn their foreign language credits. She was instrumental in the development of the curriculum used at the school.
“We are teaching historical and present-day identity which is cyclical,” said Osceola, who teaches subjects such as the Three Seminole Wars, government policies and Seminole Tribal government. “So many children are starving for knowledge of their past. I really don’t have to make it fun; I can classify it as hard work and preservation in a fun way. The history is interesting enough itself and it tells its own story.”
She enjoys sharing hand- on experiences with the students by cultivating and harvesting cultural gardens and embarking on field trips around the reservation and beyond that allow students to step back in time and experience life through the eyes of their ancestors.
“Yes, we read out of textbooks, as any other class would; however, history is not within the walls of my classroom; it is everywhere,” she said.
Osceola enjoys witnessing the preservation of the Seminole history. She commends her grandparents Stanlo and Johnny Johns, her uncle Willie Johns and her cultural mentor, Lorene Gopher, for helping her and encouraging her to fall in love with her lineage.
“It is said that it takes a village to raise a child,” Osceola said. “I whole heartily believe that it takes a team to instruct our children. So, it means a lot to me to be given the award of Teacher of the Year. The Culture staff is an excellent, supporting team, and I am honored to be given this award and to be educating our future leaders.”
Teachers play a vital role in the daily mechanics of a school, but sometimes the support staff is overlooked. The staff at Pemayetv Emahakv didn’t forget the significance of these individuals as they voted for this year’s Non-Instructional Employee of the Year: Linda Tanner.
Tanner has worked in the food service industry for more than 10 years and has worked with the Charter School since it opened. She enjoys encouraging students to try new and healthy foods and understands the importance of a well-balanced diet to support healthy brain function.
“Lunch time is the best part of my day because I love to fill little bellies and interact with the students,” Tanner said. “When I heard I was awarded this great honor I was excited. It was very unexpected. It was a heart-dropper.”
All Teachers of the Year are now in the running for District Teacher of the Year, which is chosen by a district selection committee. The District Teacher of the Year is chosen by a process that includes classroom observation and a question-and-answer session.