Student Nomination Story

(I, Stephanie McClaren, am writing this on behalf of my daughter Savannah Flores, as well as my son Collin Flores, both of whom are Fifth grade students in Mrs. Stephens' class.) Both of my children have been identified as gifted from a very early age. Their education began in parochial school, and subsequently, the fight for an education that challenged my advanced learners began in Kindergarten. We live in a suburban area whose parochial schools have limited resources. Ultimately, after meeting with the local public school's Gifted Services Coordinator multiple times, and after meeting with the Fairborn Intermediate School's Principal, Mrs. Wyatt, I made the decision to pull my children out of parochial school and enroll them in public school as I was certain the local public school would be able to do a better job of pushing my children to reach their academic potential. Mrs. Stephens, though not required, goes above and beyond to ensure the gifted students in her class have differentiated assignments to push them. While doing this, she also teaches to the students at the other end of the spectrum that are struggling with the material and the assignments. This is no easy task. Our family has been through many teachers over the years who have been content with shoving additional worksheets in my children's busy work folders or having my children grade papers or help explain the lesson to classmates as their differentiated learning. These are not exaggerations nor are they acceptable differentiated learning assignments to our family. It has been my experience that teachers have found it exceptionally difficult to find acceptable ways to challenge my gifted learners while also assisting those children who are struggling with the concepts being taught. Mrs. Stephens is able to differentiate without additional ungraded busy work and without having my children acting as pseudo teachers aides. Mrs. Stephens encourages differentiation by incorporating additional technology-based and research requirements, as an example. According to my daughter, Mrs. Stephens "puts pizzazz" in the classroom and makes her excited to go to school each day. This is the same child, who for grades 1 through 3, came home from school each day saying she did not want to go back because she did not learn a single thing, and not for lack of meetings with curriculum specialists, teachers, and principals. My son tells me that Mrs. Stephens always (and we use that word sparingly in our family because we know that always truly means every single time) helps each student (not just the him and his sister) who has questions and does everything she can to make sure they understand. Both of my children love going to school and enjoy that they are actually learning! Given that both of my children have experienced a lack of academic growth, to now have a teacher that supports, encourages, and even pushes academic growth, it has truly changed our lives. Mrs. Stephens is constantly modeling socially acceptable behavior. In our school district, as in most school districts across America, there unfortunately are some students who do not have positive role models at home who teach socially acceptable behavior. Mrs. Stephens not only corrects behavior issues in the classroom as soon as they arise, but she is constantly modeling positive and acceptable behavior in her own behavior towards the students, her fellow teachers, and administration. For one or two of these students, Mrs. Stephens may be the only individual in these children's lives who demonstrates respectful behavior while also showering the children with care during the day. I can attest that not every teacher in the profession takes a profound interest in their students. Mrs. Stephens certainly does, and she should be noted as an example to her peers in this profession. Middle school is often a tricky time. The students experience many body and hormone changes and sometimes find themselves in situations of peer pressure related to drugs, alcohol, and other difficult situations. Mrs. Stephens started talking to her students about these situations early in the year, to help prepare them for the situations they may experience next year. It is incredible that she takes such an interest in her students that she finds the time to encourage them to grow and to stand up for themselves and be ready for the situations they will face. As a parent, I appreciate that she is preparing her students to be strong and to stand up for themselves in these difficult situations. It is teachers like Mrs. Stephens, who take the opportunity to go above and beyond the call of simply teaching to lesson plans and state tests, that reach the students who may not be hearing these things at home. Speaking as a parent who does have these conversations at home, it never hurts for the children to hear these things again! I am a parent that has always been involved with my children and their education. As such, I am "that" parent that always has questions. Weekly, if not daily, I message Mrs. Stephens about something or other. Each and every time, I receive a quick and thorough response. I feel it is important to note this because again, it has been my experience that not every teacher takes the time to respond to parents thoroughly, or at all. I do not know how Mrs. Stephens has managed to crack the code on things that so many other teachers in our experience have struggled with, all I know is that she has, and it has come quite naturally to her. Mrs. Stephens is the whole package, an absolutely incredible asset to the teaching profession, and has been the answer to a prayer that I have prayed with tears streaming down my face for many nights. I truly wish we could take her with us as we advance in grades. We live in a school district where, the last I heard, 75%+ of our families are at or below the poverty line, with technology not readily available at home, so I'm sure many families are not aware that this award exists. I can only imagine the extreme amount of nominees that your organization receives for this prestigious award and I respectfully ask that you consider this as three nominations for Mrs. Stephens, one from my daughter, one from my son, and one from me. Thank you for taking the time to read about the most incredible educator I have experienced through all of my personal education (I have a master's degree so I've had my fair share of educators) and my children's education to date. Mrs. Stephens is truly something special!

Savannah Flores

To see more exceptional teacher nominees, visit The Honor Roll.