2017 A+ Teachers marked by caring, compassion, life lessons

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple A+ Teacher Kathleen Bronson, center, discusses literature with eight-grade students Ally Potts, left; Alexa Motichko, right; and Dezaray Dietrich, back to the camera, at Champion Middle School. Branson is one of 20 educators who were selected for the 27th annual A+ Teacher awards, which honor outstanding teachers in Trumbull County.

For a slideshow of the honored teachers, please visit our Multimedia page, under the Local News section.

A+ Teacher award winner Diane Holland believes in encouraging students. But sometimes, it’s the student who bolsters the teacher with lessons on how to face life. And death.

In this case, the student was Rose Strother, and her mother was very sick.

Rose talks about meeting Holland in her letter nominating her first-grade teacher at Lincoln PK-8 School in Warren for her second A+ Teacher award. Holland is one of the 20 educators to be honored in the 27th annual tribute to outstanding teachers.

“When I first started first grade, I was scared out of my kindergarten life,” Rose wrote. She said Holland calmed her fears with math games, writing and coloring on the fall morning in 2013. “I loved that day so much, I remember it almost by heart.

“A year later, in second grade, I walked into my school in tears. My mother was dying. They said she barely had any time left. As soon as I saw Mrs. Holland, I ran to her, clinging to her. I told her everything. We took a short prayer. I hugged her. I remember those calm, warm hands. ‘It’s all right. It will be all right.'”

Cancer claimed Rose’s mother Dec. 9, 2014. Holland remembers that day.

“When I saw her father pass my doorway and head toward the second-grade wing, I knew,” she said. “Shortly, I heard running and my name being called. I knew it was Rose. She was out of breath and she had to tell me. We prayed. That’s all we could do was just pray.

“The remarkable thing is I didn’t save her heart that day — she saved mine. My mother’s name was also Rose.”

Holland said she was 40 when her own mother died. “I could barely handle it.” But watching the effervescent Rose in first grade, then second, knowing what was going on at home … “This (then-) 6-year-old made me think of what the bright side looks and feels like. I think that is why I love being in the company of 6- and 7-year-olds.

“Rose and I decided we weren’t going to say goodbye to our moms. We were just going to say, ‘See you later.’ We have some things to do down here.”

Strother said, “She taught me to help others, especially when they’re sad.”

“The point I would like to make about educating children,” Holland said, “is that there is so much more than a test, a number, a score. Yes, they have to make academic achievements, and they do. But what a teacher must always remember first and foremost — they are children.”

A total 1,273 nominating letters were received this year for the A+ Teacher Awards. The 20 teachers selected as this year’s recipients Teachers will receive dinner at Outback Steakhouse and a personalized award. Profiles of all 20 award winners appear on Pages 2E and 3E.

Teachers who win the award twice are enshrined in the A+ Hall of Fame and no longer are eligible for further wins. This year, five teachers are Hall of Fame winners, Holland, who previously won in 2011; Joshua MacMillan, Hubbard High School, 2011; Mechele Krieg, Maplewood Elementary School, 2004; Thomas Gorse, Trumbull Career and Technical Center, 2010; and Roseann McCracken, Willard K-8 School, Warren, 2014.

The awards are sponsored by the Tribune Chronicle, Covelli Enterprises, Trumbull County Educational Service Center, Trumbull County Retired Teachers Association and Outback Steakhouse.

“As an organization of former teachers, we are honored to recognize exemplary teachers,” Sue Datish, president-elect of Trumbull Retired Teachers Association, said.

“It is unique in that they are chosen through letters submitted by students and parents. They are sincere and very personal. It reminds you just how directly teachers impact their students,” Datish said.

“As we read through every letter, there was a recurring theme,” Datish said. “Nearly all the letters for the award-winning teachers expressed how the teacher made their students feel special. In one case, in nearly every letter for that particular teacher each student felt that they were her favorite student.

“These teachers went beyond teaching the academics. They changed how their students think and feel. They built self-esteem and made each student feel special,” Datish said.

Diana Bauman, president of Trumbull Retired Teachers Association, said, “Teachers go above and beyond every day, not only with teaching academics but in reaching out to students to encourage their successes. The high esteem in which many students hold their teachers is a tribute to the impact that they have on their students and their lives.

“All teachers need to know that their efforts are appreciated and recognized,” Bauman said.

Sue Shafer, community events coordinator for the Tribune Chronicle, said, “Reading the student-written nomination letters is so heart-warming. From a few sentences to a two-page computer-generated essay, the nominations talk about not only the subject matter the educator teaches, but how they made the student feel valued.”

And students are learning.

“The quality of the writing has improved in the last 25-plus years, but so has the need for these students to know that someone in their life cares,” Shafer said. “This program is a chance to say thank you to these educators who truly go above and beyond.”

In the nominating letters, students shared a variety of praises for the educators who guided them in school.

“He taught me to speak even when no one is listening,” Shelby Gossick said of Newton Falls High School teacher Scott Szeljack. “(He) set me up for my future, from hating poetry to publishing poetry. My passion for writing is credited to this man.”

Kateryna Pendak, a foreign exchange student from the Ukraine, praised Hubbard High School teacher Joshua MacMillan for helping her adjust to life in the United States.

“His teaching methods are modern and nowadays teenager actually can learn something from him, and not only subject matter, but life lessons too. I can say with no doubt that he is my favorite teacher ever, even comparing to teachers from my home country.”

Niles Middle School student Bryanna Losey thanked teacher Meghan Partridge for being a cheerleader.

“Since our state tests were coming up, she bought us pencils, top eraser in a lot of different colors, and little mints. She told us to use the pencils when we had our tests, they are magic pencils. She even hand-sharpened them and wrote us little notes, saying, ‘You are smart, I believe in you. Love, Mrs. Partridge.’

“Last year, math was hard for me. This year, it’s easier and I learned everything better, and it’s all because of Mrs. Partridge,” Bryanna said. “I have her eighth period and after class, when the bell rings and we are about to go home, she always says, ‘Bye. Love you.'”

Partridge is one of several female math teachers receiving kudos in the STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — areas. LaBrae High School student Isabella Nogales said her geometry teacher, Chelsi Moore, serves as inspiration.

“It is a common misconception that math is a more male-typical field. Miss Moore does a great job of showing us that we can be anything we want to be, and being a role model for us to all look up to.”

Kara Greer of Champion Middle School said of her mathematics teacher, Susan Lenhart, “I love when she relates math to her everyday life.”

Alisha Staton, a senior in the teaching professions career track at Trumbull Career and Technical Center, said she loved lab instructor Nicole Pegg’s caring and enthusiasm.

“Mrs. Pegg’s naturally compassionate demeanor led us to calling her Mama Pegg,” Alisha said.

Another TCTC student credits American government teacher Thomas Gorse with setting her career path.

“This incredible educator has even inspired me to start my college career at YSU (Youngstown State University) as an integrated social studies major so I can teach other students to love to learn history just like Mr. Gorse taught me. He has completely changed my view on education, specifically history and government.”

Hubbard High School student Kayde Somlitz reached back to thank her sixth-grade teacher, Maggie Slovesko of Hubbard Elementary School, who stoked and still supports Kayde’s passion for poetry.

“To this day, the best piece of advice I’ve received came from her, one simple word — live,” Kayde said. “So simple yet so effective for a 14-year-old like me to hear.”

Hubbard High student Haley Arceneaux also reached back to elementary school, her fourth-grade teacher, Erin Barnot.

“Mrs. Barnot taught us to be nice to one another and cared about all of us,” Haley said. “I remember that year I was being bullied and she helped me through it and confronted them for me, and I haven’t been bullied since.

“I remember that year being terrifying, but she made it easier when I thought I couldn’t get through a day.”

Kayli Munroe of Champion Middle School said of teacher Kathleen Bronson, “To me, an A+ Teacher is a teacher who makes you want to come to school and learn. For me, that teacher is Mrs. Bronson. … She really wants to see us do good in life. … She makes me laugh on the days where I didn’t think it was possible.”