East County teachers go above and beyond
The past two years have been anything but normal for educators, especially in elementary schools. Yet in each school are examples of dedicated and enthusiastic teachers who made the best of difficult situations.
As Teacher Appreciation week comes to an end, The Outlook is recognizing the efforts of two educators who have gone above and beyond to help their students find success.
Hogan Cedars Elementary School
For as long as she could remember, Kristy McKenzie knew she wanted to give back to the community that raised her.
McKenzie has been working for the Gresham-Barlow School District for 26 years. She first got her start in teaching when she was a high school student volunteering at her former elementary school of East Orient Elementary.
"I just loved being around those kids," McKenzie said. "I would say that my experience working in East Orient was unique. Those teachers were like a family, and they treated us an extension of that family."
McKenzie didn't get to teaching right away. She first attempted working with the Gresham Police Department in high school as well, but soon found out that law enforcement wasn't the right choice for her. "I learned really quickly that it wasn't the route I wanted to go," McKenzie said. "But I thought, maybe if I could get in the classroom, I could help kids get on the right path."
With nearly 30 years of experience, McKenzie has developed her unique style of teaching fifth grade by emphasizing group approach to teaching and learning in the classroom.
"I have a coaching model where my kids see themselves as coaches and an extension of me," McKenzie said. "I really rely on them to help each other out and build each other up so there isn't this idea where it is me against them. It makes them understand that it isn't just my job, but their job too."
Taking ownership is something McKenzie tries to instill in her students. In that same vain, she also has her students take ownership and celebrate their mistakes.
"Kids are almost excited when they make a mistake, because when they catch a mistake and correct it, the entire classroom claps," McKenzie said. "I think it is good for them to plan for failure, so they can learn not to be totally discouraged when it happens and understand that they will learn and grow from those mistakes."
McKenzie said the skills she teaches have been even more important as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted development of students' social skills.
McKenzie also puts an emphasis on fun through interactive and insightful projects that students can enjoy now that they've returned to in-person classes.
One of those involves an aeroponic tower garden.
McKenzie was so inspired by the Green Bronx Machine curriculum, which teaches students about healthy eating and food systems, she decided to write a grant to get one of the garden towers for her classroom.
"It's been such a great hands-on learning tool," McKenzie said. "We have done science experiments with it; we have done writing about it; we have done math about it. It has been a fantastic tool."
The tower garden ended up being a huge hit amongst the students, many of whom said they learned about new foods, planting and how vegetables are grown.
"I used to not eat a lot of veggies, but she inspired me to try a lot of new foods," said McKenzie's fifth grader Daphnie.
Her students couldn't stop bringing in the praise for their favorite teacher. From gushing about how much they have learned to love cucumbers to the improvements they have gained in math, McKenzie was the center of all their affirmations.
"She is one of the nicest fifth-grade teachers ever," Amy, another student, said. "She is so bright, bubbly and inspires us every day."
Meadows Elementary School
"I absolutely love everything about school," said kindergarten teacher Sarah Flury. "It is all encompassing for me. I mean, I still get butterflies during the summertime when I think about coming back to school."
Flury said school was always the safe place for when she was a young student, where she would be surrounded by caring teachers.
Now 15 years into her career as a teacher, Flury gets to provide that same care and attention to her students that made going to school so fun for her as a girl.
For her students, Flury follows three simple guidelines: being firm, loving and consistent.
"Everyday, from the time I get her to the time I get home, I am firm, loving and consistent with those kids," Flury said.
Flury style of compassion, but not leniency has shown her to be a top educator at Meadows. "She radiates love, even when kids are not their best selves or a little challenging," said Meadows' principal Lisa Clingan. "Even then, those students know they are cared for when they are with her, and they always end up coming around."
Even though Flury has developed a reputation for being able to handle challenging students, her classroom still exudes fun and optimism.
Even during the height of COVID-19 and Centennial School District Schools were distance learning Flury never relented in providing the same attention and love for her students.
"I remember we had no kids in the building and stress levels were at its highest," Clingan said. "I remember passing Flury's classroom, and just seeing her standing in front of her computer dancing and singing. She was just fully engaged and bringing her A-game during this wild time."
For Flury, the way she stays so motivated and energetic every day is what makes teaching elementary students unique.
"To be an elementary school teacher, you have to have a love for the children," Flury said. "I think, for the higher grades you mostly have a love for the subject, not that they don't love their students, but in elementary school the kids are the focal point and is what we are all about."
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