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Celebrating 2017’s teachers of the year

Melinda White, Courtney Check, Amanda Chartier, Jessica Marks and Elizabeth Kreitinger.

Melinda White, Courtney Check, Amanda Chartier, Jessica Marks and Elizabeth Kreitinger.

The Yavapai County Education Foundation honored teachers at its April 28 banquet. Following are Prescott-area winners:

MELINDA WHITE

Abia Judd Elementary Kindergarten to Fourth grade Special Education resource teacher – Cross-Grades Specialist K-8th Grade Category winner:

“I was speechless. So many people I work with are so deserving of this award. It’s just an amazing honor,” White said.

Going into her 10th year at Abia Judd, White said she prides herself on building relationships with students by creating a rapport that then allows them to focus on improving their reading and math skills.

A believer that every child can be a success, White said she works with each of her students so they can perform along with their classroom peers, recognizing to do so requires practice and perseverance. She strives to impart to her students that hard work reaps its own reward.

In her classroom, White has assorted goal measures, including a football field where her students move the football down the field as they attain reading goals. And they are also treated to an ice cream party. She works with each child at their instructional level, and makes certain they have fun as they learn and that she is proud of their progress, she said.

Nothing feels better to her than to see their peers clap for them when it is their turn to do a classroom presentation, she said.

“I believe in them, and in their ability to be successful so they can reach their potentials, and then they feel confident, empowered and successful,” White said. “When they leave (her classroom) they have a great feeling about themselves … That fuels my passion to do what I do every day.”

COURTNEY CHECK

Prescott High School Language Arts teacher – High School Category winner:

An ancient proverb may prescribe to the notion that silence is golden, but in Courtney Check’s classroom noise and commotion are the heart of the collaborative instruction that feeds her students.

From the start of her teaching at the high school in 2010, Check’s focus has been on allowing students to learn collaboratively. So that often means noise as students to converse, debate and come to their own conclusions on literature, history and current events. Part of her day includes a co-teaching block with history teacher David Stengel. Students have said that course is demanding, but one that offers them a lot of creative freedom and exchange of ideas that they might not otherwise explore.

“The power is in the students, not me,” Check said of her teaching philosophy. “I believe they are powerful and capable. They just have to be given the space to learn their capabilities.”

No pushover, Check maintains high expectations for all of her students that incorporates a lot of writing assignments, and personal expression of their ideas.

On one recent day, Check challenged her block students to create a skit related to literature or some “finer point of life” taught to them by their teachers.

The ensuing cacophony was learning at its best, with the students embracing the challenge.

She strives to connect whatever literature they learn to real life, and prompts the students to use the creative arts to express their thoughts and views about the themes and characters.

I absolutely believe every student can do it,” she said of her assignments.

As for her choice to become a teacher, Check was clear she considers it a privilege.

“Teaching is one of the most important things in the world. We, as teachers, can help create the critical thinkers that will have an important impact on our future.”

As for her honor, Check said she was “completely humbled, completely overwhelmed, and very grateful.”

“I love it here. I don’t ever want to leave,” she concluded.

AMANDA CHARTIER

Prescott High School art teacher - Cross-Grades Specialist 9 -12th Grade Category winner:

In Amanda Chartier’s classroom, everyone is an artist.

The almost three-decade teacher and 1984 Prescott High School graduate, Chartier is one of those teachers whose enthusiasm is contagious, and who embraces the notion that students are willing to stretch their imagination and artistic creativity when it is disguised as fun.

“I’m highly interactive, always positive and high energy,” Chartier said of her personality. “I just feed off their (students) energy … I’m a pretty giving teacher, but they give it back to me not just as a teacher, but as a human being.”

A lover of all art, Chartier has her master’s degree in watercolors. She knew, though, from her college days that she would never be happy producing art alone in a studio. She much prefers sharing her craft with younger generations in a dynamic, “artist-to-artist” type exchange. Her career/life mentors were her PHS art teacher Cheryl Moran, Senior English teacher Louisa Nelson and her mother Patty Rummage, a four-decade district teacher.

Her son, Garrett, 21, is a PHS graduate who is now a junior at Northern Arizona University and her daughter, Abby, 17, is a high school junior.

She said she was very “humbled” by her recent honor as she sees herself simply as a representative of all the fine teachers at the high school.

“What happens in the walls of PHS is nothing short of amazing,” Chartier said.

JESSICA MARKS

Glassford Hill Middle School in the Humboldt Unified School District – Yavapai County Teacher of the Year and winner of the Sixth to Eighth Grade Category, one of six divisions honored in the annual celebration.

Back when she was a journalist, Glassford Hill Middle School Seventh and Eighth Grade Language Arts Teacher Jessica Marks said she used to write about schools. However, instead of it being a look at how great schools are, she found it to be too political for her tastes.

“I just didn’t want that to be my whole life … I had seen some really cool teachers doing really cool things,” she said.

Having taught since 2009, Marks said she is finishing up her eighth year in the classroom. Marks’ excellence in her new role just won her the top accolade of Yavapai County Teacher of the Year; she was selected from the finalists in five categories – winning the Sixth through Eighth Grade division.

There are some days she can’t believe she gets paid to do the job, Marks said, commenting the enjoyment she gets from being a part of watching learning happen. The kids come through her door not knowing something and when they leave, there are times she can see them understanding that new concept, she said.

When you touch a kid or two these days, there’s no telling what you’ll be able to do with them, Marks said, remarking that giving up on them means giving up on their life.

Marks said she also loves her fellow teachers, even though fellow teachers can get pretty competitive in school.

“You want your scores to be the best, but I feel like when we help our other teachers, they’re the ones helping all the kids,” she said. “Why would I keep something that makes me successful all to myself?”

ELIZABETH KREITINGER

Territorial Early Childhood Center in the Chino Valley Unified School District – Winner in the Kindergarten through Fifth Grade Category.

High standards. Fair dealings. Huge heart. Willingness to share. Fun and exciting.

The measure of a great teacher includes these descriptions and they all define Elizabeth Kreitinger, the 2017 Yavapai County Teacher of the Year for Kindergarten through Fifth Grade category.

This was my lucky year to be nominated,” said Kreitinger who teaches first grade at Territorial Early Childhood Center. “All of us here at TECC are amazing, wonderful teachers.”

Kreitinger is finishing her fourth year of teaching, her first with the Chino Valley Unified School District. Her first degree was in Criminal Justice earned at North Dakota State University, because “I knew I wanted to help people.”

“I love teaching. I love teaching first grade,” said Kreitinger who earned her teaching certificate in Minnesota.

Her classroom reflects a Dr. Seuss theme where her 25 students find something new and exciting every day, and are held to high standards.

TECC has six, first-grade classrooms with the teachers forming a supportive team.

“No matter who you are, you don’t do it on your own,” she said.

Principal Brandy Cox’s nomination letter praised Kreitinger for her quality lesson plans, and her innovative, creative and enthusiastic teaching skills.

“Mrs. Kreitinger’s understanding of the curriculum, effective teaching methods, and her willingness to share her knowledge has earned her respect from her colleagues and administration,” the principal said. “She is kind, compassionate, and an advocate for her students.”

By Courier staff writers Nanci Hutson, Jason Wheeler and Sue Tone.

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