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New Teachers Join Soquel District: A Trio of Q&As

Patch had the opportunity to chat with a few of the new hires at Soquel and Main Street elementary schools.

and , both in the Soquel Union Elementary School District, have hired a handful of new teachers this year.

Some of the new hires are returning to SUESD, while others are venturing over from neighboring districts. With a unique mix of instructional methods ready for classroom integration, these teachers are ready to educate, inspire and get students moving down an educational path to success.

Capitola-Soquel Patch checked in with a few of them this week. See what they had to say below.

Katie Stewart, Second-Grade Teacher, Soquel Elementary School

Katie Stewart is the new second-grade teacher at Soquel Elementary School. A Bay Area native, Stewart made her way to Santa Cruz during her college years, when she attended the University of California Santa Cruz. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in psychology, with a minor in education and returned to the school in 2006 to get her master's in education. She’s excited to work with students and strives to help them become responsible and productive citizens.

Patch: What's your background in education?

Stewart: While attending school, I interned with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and worked in a special-education class. I graduated in 2005, and my internship turned into a job as an instructional assistant at Westlake Elementary School. After getting my teaching credential from UC Santa Cruz, I was lucky enough to land a student-teaching position at Soquel Elementary School with Shirley Bush, but my longer student-teaching assignment was at Del Mar Elementary in Live Oak. Both experiences were amazing and taught me valuable lessons in teaching. 

After graduating, I got a job in the Pajaro Valley School District at Ann Soldo as a reading-intervention teacher for grades first through fifth. I was their intervention teacher for two years, but due to budget cuts, the position was eliminated. I then landed a long-term substitute job in first grade at Del Mar Elementary, and then in 2010, I went back to Pajaro and taught at Mintie White Elementary School as a second-grade teacher. 

Patch: What excites you about teaching?

Stewart: I love to learn along with my students.  I feel I am a life-long learner, and I want to teach them the joys of learning. I try to excite and energize them, especially when it comes to reading. My goal this year is to excite the students to want to learn. I want to impart valuable knowledge to my students and show them how exciting and interesting learning can be by creating a standards-based curriculum that’s meaningful and relevant to their lives.  

Patch: Why did you want to become a teacher?

Stewart: I was inspired by my fifth-grade teacher. He was my first teacher to teach in a more hands-on, experiential approach. He also worked hard to connect the lessons to our lives. To this day, I still remember the lessons he taught. He taught his students that in life it's OK to make mistakes, because that is how we learn. He instilled a love for learning in me, and I want to do the same for my students

Patch: What do you like about teaching your selected grade level?

Stewart: I love to work with kids from all grade levels, but second grade is exciting, because many of the students have begun to master their reading skills. The students are beginning to enjoy reading early-chapter books, and the excitement in their eyes when they realize they can read a chapter book on their own makes my day. 

Patch: What do you hope to bring to the classroom?

Stewart: In encouraging my students to be life-long learners, I want them to know how to answer questions for themselves. I want to educate the whole child, so that the students that leave my classroom are on their way to becoming responsible and productive citizens. And I want to leave them with knowledge that’s relevant and meaningful to their lives outside of the classroom.

Patch: What interests you about the new school where you'll be teaching?

Stewart: I am excited to be back at Soquel and this time as part of the staff. I can't wait to work with a close-knit community, one that really values their schools, kids and teachers. This past week, the staff has been so friendly and supportive, and I can't wait to collaborate with them and make this a great year. 

Christina Wenger, Fifth-Grade Teacher, Main Street Elementary School

Christina Wenger, 25, is the new fifth-grade teacher at Main Street Elementary School. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from San Jose State University and obtained her master’s in education from UC Santa Cruz, where she attained both her multiple-and-single-subject English credentials. 

Patch: What's your background in education?

Wenger: During the 2010-2011 school year I taught eighth-grade language arts and English Language Development for the Greenfield Unified School District at Vista Verde Middle School. Previous to that, I student taught first grade at Santa Cruz Gardens Elementary School in Soquel, as well as fifth grade at Amesti Elementary School in Watsonville.

However, I have always been involved in education in some way. Previous to teaching, I worked as an aide at Santa Cruz Children’s School. I also taught the art of orienteering for an outdoor education program at Hume Lake, and during high school, I helped lead a mentoring program for at-risk youth. Before all of that, I started out as a big sister, which, of course, is where most of us learn to lead and teach in the first place. 

Patch: What excites you about teaching?

Wenger: I enjoy the dynamic energy of growth and change in the classroom. As the students confront their own ideas of the world and add to or change them, I get to be a part of that process. I find that I often grow as much as the students do each year. I enjoy creating relationships with the students, laughing with them and being part of their lives for a fleeting year. The buzz of the classroom, the energy the students bring in and out with them every day revitalizes me and makes me want to explore the world with them.

Patch: Why did you want to become a teacher?

Wenger: I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a child. My sisters and I would spend afternoons playing “school,” and I always wanted to be the teacher. When I was little, I enjoyed learning and being in the classroom. I helped my siblings and others grasp school work and always looked forward to the challenge of explaining something in a new way until it clicked for the person.

But it wasn’t until teaching orienteering in a camp setting that I knew I wanted to teach. That was when I first discovered what it meant to lead a group and give them each opportunities to lead, in turn. That was when I first discovered the energy and exploration of teaching, and after that, I was hooked.

Patch: What do you like about teaching your selected grade level?

Wenger: Fifth grade is a time of major change socially, academically and physically. In fifth grade, they’re at the top of the school, they’re beginning to face major physical and social change, and for this reason they’re vulnerable and are searching for community.

Being a role model for them, giving them the opportunity to be role models, helping them create community and build confidence is the best part about teaching this grade. More than ever the students are open to self and group reflection, which strengthens the classroom community beyond what it usually is in other grades. Plus, the little buggers are so funny at this age. They understand sarcasm and wit, and are creative. 

Patch: What do you hope to bring to the classroom?

Wenger: What I would like most out of this year is for my students to self-reflect, strive, learn to work together, and be excited about learning. I also want them to be confident in their abilities, and have goals for their weaknesses. To do this, I employ a wide range of participation strategies. The students will have a chance to take on new identities this year as authors through writer’s workshops, as well as readers through literature circles.

Patch: What interests you in the school in which you were recently hired?

Wenger: There are many aspects of Main Street Elementary School that make this position attractive. Having worked in the district as a student teacher, I have experienced first-hand the warmth this district shows for its teachers. Main Street is known for its high levels of parent involvement, which I believe is important for any child’s education. The school’s teachers are known for their kindness, tenacity and creativity. Not only that, but the teachers are collaborative, which is essential to my teaching beliefs. The students are said to be phenomenal, and from those I have met so far, I would agree.

Though I was offered other positions in Greenfield, I longed to teach in the community where I live. I feel that to truly promote change as a teacher, you need to be active in the community, your students’ lives, and the school’s activities. Because I was commuting to Greenfield, I found I could not be a part of their community.

Clementine Suiffet, Third-Grade Teacher, Soquel Elementary School

Clementine Suiffet, 42, is the new third-grade teacher at Soquel Elementary School. She received her Bachelor of Arts in communications, with an emphasis in radio broadcasting, and studied French through Principia College, an independent school in Elsah, IL. She obtained her teaching credential from Cal State TEACH at the University of Fullerton, and is working on a Master's of Science degree in instructional science and technology at Cal State University, Monterey Bay.

Patch: What's your background in education?

Suiffet: I used to teach at Saul Martinez and Mecca Elementary Schools in Mecca, CA, which is a rural area consisting primarily of migrant workers. I taught first grade to English learners and I also taught fourth grade at Clairbourn, a private school in San Gabriel, CA.

Patch: What excites you about teaching?

Suiffet: What excites me about teaching are the kids, and their love for learning. I love their enthusiasm for learning new concepts and applying this knowledge through collaboration and hands-on projects.

Patch: Why did you want to become a teacher?

Suiffet: I wanted to become a teacher in order to help students with a broad range of learning needs meet the academic standards. Although it was my aim to inspire students to connect to the subject matter, I was passionate about teaching students to be self-motivated so that learning was not simply a means to an end, such as mastery of the subject matter, but a means for constantly pursuing knowledge by using critical-thinking skills. Students who could analyze, evaluate and apply their learning had the skills to make a positive contribution to their community.

Patch: What do you like about teaching your grade level?

Suiffet: I enjoy teaching third grade and the primary-grade levels, because this is an age where students are easily impressionable, particularly in the area of character development, where the skills of respect and appreciation of individual differences contribute toward an environment of stability. This ultimately translates into academic success.

Patch: What do you hope to bring to the classroom?

Suiffet: I plan to differentiate instruction to make sure that students at all levels, including those with special needs, have the tools to comprehend the subject matter. With my training in literacy development, I am qualified to teach students the appropriate reading strategies that will serve as a foundation for understanding content areas in the core subjects.

My goal is to incorporate technological tools into the curriculum to reach a broad range of learning abilities. I’ve seen that, generally, students are motivated to share their understanding of the subject matter using technology. By giving children opportunities to demonstrate comprehension using various resources, such as multi-media and print-based ones, I’m supporting the Soquel Elementary School district's value of “a rich curriculum facilitated by technological tools and real experiences that build background knowledge and critical thinking.”

Patch: What interests you in the school you were recently hired at?

Suiffet: I was interested in moving to the Santa Cruz area and applied online through the Edjoin.org website. Thankfully, I was hired to work at Soquel Elementary, a California Distinguished School, where I was particularly impressed by the sense of community from the principal, teachers and staff, including their team spirit and commitment to collaborate. I feel that teamwork is essential in boosting morale in the workplace and creating an environment that supports the academic and emotional growth of the students.

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