Friday, March 31, 2017

Teacher stories 9: the joy of helping others

Note: Today's teacher story focuses on Rhonda Taylor, who teaches at Huth Road Elementary School. She is the advisor for the school's Early Act Club. The Early Act Club is a service club for children, ages five through thirteen. It is connected with Rotary International, and the goals of the club are to give children an increased awareness and knowledge of their community and their world. By being involved in the Early Act club, children can develop their empathy and can learn to see the dignity and value of all human beings.

Tell me about what you do during the school day.

I work between three inclusion classrooms, teach with Mrs. Gregson and Mrs. Cassata in fourth grade and also with Mrs. Percival in third grade. The past two years, I taught fourth grade on my own, while filling in on a maternity position. Before that, I worked as a teaching assistant at Kaegebein Elementary School.

Did you have any other career dreams or did you know from an early age that you wanted to be a teacher?

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, even as a little girl. I always liked being around young children and guiding them to make good decisions. I also had a few amazing teachers along the way who have inspired me to want to make a difference.

I grew up in Lewiston and attended the Lewiston-Porter school system. My second grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Destino, and she was always very soft spoken and kind and passionate. She taught me that having a big heart and showing your students how much you care can go a long way in the eyes of a child. And then, in high school, I ran into a couple struggles in a pre-calculus class. It was difficult for me, and I wasn’t used to struggling in school. My math teacher’s name was Mrs. Matthews. She met me in the AAC. That’s an acronym for the Academic Achievement Center. She met me there a couple times a week to break down the math, one on one, so that I could understand it. And so, from that moment on, I knew that I wanted to be that person for so many others. So I volunteered my time in the AAC, to support other high school students with their studies. Then I went on and chose to pursue teaching in college.

Where did you go to college?
I attended Buffalo State College for both my undergraduate and master’s degree. I took classes in elementary education, early childhood education, and my master’s degree is in literacy.

How long have you worked at Huth Road?

I have been working in the district since 2007. This is my third year at Huth Road.

How do you feel about teaching at Huth Road Elementary School?

From the moment I walked into the school, everyone was so welcoming. The collaboration of all of the teacher here at Huth is what makes it truly special. We have a huge involvement of parents here at Huth. And I’ve really enjoyed getting to know so many of the faculty members, especially working in so many different classrooms.

What is it like to work in so many different classrooms in one day?

For me, I really enjoy getting to know so many of the different teaching styles. So I start my day with Mrs. Gregson, where we co-teach science and social studies. Then I head to Mrs. Percival’s room, where we finish up math and squeeze in writer’s workshop. After that, I head to Mrs. Cassata’s room, where we finish up math before and after lunch. Then I head back to third grade for literacy stations. Then my day ends in academic support with Kathy Brown, where we separate our fourth graders into smaller group to reinforce the ELA (English and Language Arts) and math that was taught that day. I really should wear roller skates to school, each day!

You get a lot of exercise! What has this experience been like for you?

To be honest, it can be difficult to be in so many places throughout the school day. However, I work with so many amazing teachers.  It is a truly beneficial model and experience for the students. Having more than one teacher is beneficial in so many ways. Staying organized is the key for me! Keeping well thought out plans and staying in close communication with each of the other of the teachers I work with is crucial.

What have you observed in the students?

I think that, for me, especially working between two grade levels that are back to back, it’s really neat to see how the concepts piggyback off of one another. It's interesting to see the student growth, in seeing how much growth a third grader has in becoming a fourth grader.

I'm watching kids put to use a skill or strategy that they’ve been taught, without telling them to use it. When a student grasps something quickly and is willing to use that knowledge to teach and encourage their classmates, you can see the pride on their face. You can’t help but smile yourself. It's really exciting to see them teach and encourage one another.

Tell me about the Early Act Club at Huth Road Elementary School.

Early Act Club consists of 20 fourth and fifth grade students, who want to make a difference in the lives of others. The kids fill out an application at the beginning of the school year, expressing their interest and ideas for the club. They need to be available to meet two Wednesdays a month after school, and we also had a couple of activities outside of school, as well. Like the Salvation Army bell ringing. We’ve had a couple of district wide Interact and Early Act meetings (Interact is the service club for middle school and high school students). This spring, we will also be participating with Interact at a garbage pickup at Beaver Island State Park. So this year, some of our projects included holiday placemats for our residents at Elderwood. We made fleece blankets for the animals at the SPCA. We had a snack drive for the pediatric floor at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. We also helped with Huth Road Elementary school’s food, pajama, and book drive. 

As the advisor, I feel strongly that the kids should know how good it feels to give up something good for yourself to do something good for someone else. A lot of our kids leave Huth wanting to participate in the Interact clubs at the middle school and high school, as well.

Cindy Robinson and I advised the Early Act club together last year. Before that, she had been the adviser. This year, the club was handed to me.

What would you like to tell parents?

I think that the best thing that parents can do at home is to have meaningful conversations with their children. Ask them about their day and their friends and their after-school activities. Read with them. Engage in conversations about their reading. I think it is easy to get wrapped up in technology, TV shows, and video games, but it’s so important to make meaningful time for one another. Also, I I think that it is important to have our children do things that are difficult for them, to allow them to safely make mistakes and encourage them to try new things.

Should children be afraid to make mistakes?

No, children should never be afraid of making mistakes. They should see them as a way to experience growth.

What do you like to do when you're not at school?

I have a five-year-old son at home. Mason is in kindergarten in the Niagara Wheatfield schools. So when I’m not working, I devote most of my time to my husband, Ryan, and to Mason, and to the rest of my family. We’re lucky enough to have my mom, Diana, around the corner from us, so we are able to spend a lot of time together. Mason is the only grandchild on my side of the family, but he has ten cousins on my husband’s side of the family. We always get together for a family dinner every Sunday with those cousins. We are very lucky to have our family close by. On the occasional downtime, I like to shop, read, and spend time with friends.

Speaking about your family, tell me more about your son, Mason, who is also known by the name "Super Mason."

 Mason was born with a disorder called neurofibromatosis (NF). It is a condition that is caused by a mutated gene. It is genetic, although neither Ryan nor I have the disorder. It can cause tumors to grow on nerves throughout his body. We found out that Mason had it when he was about one year old. Mason had a mass in his inner ear. The mass was removed when Mason was three years old. His hearing was only mildly affected.

Our family spends a lot of time fundraising for the Children's Tumor Foundation to find a cure for this disorder. We will be walking again this fall at the Rochester NF Walk. Mason continues to see several specialists throughout the year but, overall, is doing very well.

Note: This school year, Dana Papaj, a teacher's aide and a professional artist, painted a picture of Mason in a superhero costume. He was depicted as Super Mason. "Mason is cute, smart, and a celebrity," said Dana Papaj. Prints of the painting were raffled off, with all proceeds going to efforts to find a cure for NF.

For more information about the Children's Tumor Foundation, check out the organization's website at "link to the Children's Tumor Foundation."

1 comment:

Alana said...

Super-teacher. What an inspiring story!