Feb. 26, 2010
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Irish poet William Butler Yeats once said, “Teaching is not the filling of the pail but the lighting of the fire.”
Four educators, as well as an organization, who have contributed to the lighting of the fire amongst their students, colleagues or the field itself have been named by Sam Houston State University’s College of Education as Distinguished Educators of the Year.
The recipients, Norma Darlene Sentesi, distinguished elementary teacher; Sharon Brown, distinguished secondary teacher; Rebecca Page, distinguished administrator; Kimberly Falkenbury, distinguished support professional; and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, friend of education, will be honored during the sixth annual dinner and awards ceremony on March 6.
In an approximate 16-year period, physical education teacher Norma Darlene Sentesi has helped Klein school district’s Brill Elementary evolve from a school that had “no gym, little equipment, no program to speak of, no structure” to a program that has earned three national awards, all while emphasizing the importance of a healthy lifestyle to her students.
Working to set Brill’s physical education program above the rest and increase the amount of activity among her students, Sentesi established a number of programs including a jump rope team, a Brill Community Health Fair and the Brill Revue Jump Rope and Dance Show.
She also advocated for children’s health at Brill through the Student Health Advisory Council to help the faculty support the PE program and implemented new curriculum called CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Heath), which includes staff development that “promotes physical activity, encourages healthy food choices, and prevents tobacco use in elementary school-aged children, promoting behavior changes that can last a lifetime,” according to Karen Smith, Brill Elementary principal.
For her work, Brill was named a National Demonstration School and is the only elementary school in Texas to have gained the status of President’s Challenge “Honor Roll School,” which included Congressional recognition.
“Because of Darlene’s leadership, we have become a changed school. We don’t just focus on academics; we look at the whole child,” said Trudi Hendricks, fourth grade English/language arts teacher for Brill.
Incorporating other disciplines into her teaching, Sentesi has students utilize math skills by count by increments while holding stretches, teaches science in explaining the relationship between the heart and cardiovascular system and vocabulary by challenging students to learn words such as “aerobic” and “endurance.”
“I believe that teaching my students why they are doing what I am asking is as important as telling them what to do,” she said. “I am dedicated to the idea that all children are entitled to health literacy just as they are reading, math, science, and their other study areas and will continue to work tirelessly to that end.”
Within her classroom, Sentesi adopted not only an interdisciplinary but also a “holistic” approach, also teaching parents things such as how to calculate and interpret body mass indexes.
“Darlene Sentesi not only focuses on the physical aspect of sports, but also expects and encourages each student to strive for their personal best, while gently instructing them in the importance of fair play, good sportsmanship, and teamwork,” said Maura Murto, Brill Elementary volunteer. “She calls it a ‘life lab,’ where children learn the necessary skills to springboard into the next step of their journey.
“This holistic approach to physical education helps develop each student as an individual, while also nurturing the ability to work with a team,” she said. “These are more than P.E. skills. They are life skills, which will serve these children well in whatever futures they choose to pursue.
As the New Waverly High School English teacher, it is the support that Sharon Brown gives her students both inside and outside of the classroom that distinguishes her among her peers.
“I may be the teacher, but I am also a character from a story. I am the corrector of their grammar. I am a school nurse. I am a comforter when family pain is enormous. I am a disciplinarian where there has never been discipline,” she said. “I teach respect, give respect, demand respect. I am a mom when there is no mom. I care when a child doesn’t believe anyone cares. And my students give me their best.”
Brown is also the SHSU College of Education’s 2010 “Distinguished Secondary Teacher.”
During her 19 years of teaching, 12 of which have been at NWHS, Brown has become known as an innovator, whose “vision is one of high student achievement” and whose supervision of UIL events has “helped make New Waverly High School a leader in the district.”
She helps prepare students for education outside of high school and was called by one parent “undoubtedly the best teacher (my son) has ever had.”
“In the decade that I have known her as a professional peer and friend, I have been constantly amazed at her enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to students,” said Patrick Shevlin, NWHS department chair of social studies. “She arrives early, often hours early, and stays very late to be sure that her lessons are prepared or her grades are averaged each week for her students.
“But it goes far beyond that. She bakes for students’ birthdays and arranges gifts for them at Christmas. She embodies the nurturing spirit that helps kids feel that this school is truly their Alma Mater (Foster Mother),” he said. “She loves them, and they know it.”
An “avid Bearkat,” who earned her bachelor’s degree and English certification at SHSU, Brown said she encourages her students to consider her alma mater as “a real possibility as a college option,” bringing them to campus for tours, recommending them for scholarships and helping them study college entry-level tests.
She has also been a mentor teacher seven times for SHSU student teachers.
Among the student letters of recommendation, the resounding message was not only that she really cares about her students but that she doesn’t give up on them.
“You don’t realize how much it means to come all the way from Cs to the top 10 percent in a school like New Waverly High School. And it all happened because of one woman that cared,” one student said. “I went from never reading in front of a class because I felt stupid, to reading all the time now and I LIKE to do it. I never saw myself coming this far, but I have to give thanks to one person.”
As an educator within the Conroe school district for 30 years, Rebecca Page’s leadership as principal of two elementary schools helped in earning Texas Education Agency recognition.
For that, Page has been named the College of Education’s “Distinguished Administrator.”
Asked to serve as the first principal at a newly opened Reaves Elementary, a school serving a large economically disadvantaged population, in 2004, Page and her staff “worked diligently to use effective instructional strategies and to provide training for teachers,” and the school received a “Recognized” rating within the first year, she said.
By the second year, the school was named “Exemplary,” a title it has held three of the five years of its existence. In addition, Reaves was named a “Distinguished Title I” school by the TEA last year.
In January 2009, Page was asked to move to Giesinger Elementary School, “another Title I campus that was suffering from a lack of direction and leadership,” according to John C. Husbands, vice president Conroe school district board of trustees.
“The request was sudden and unexpected, but Mrs. Page accepted without hesitation. She knew there were challenges at this school, but she also knew it was full of promise and potential,” said Jean Stewart, CISD deputy superintendent of schools. “Within weeks, new systems were in place to meet the needs of at-risk students, instructional coaches were modeling and supporting best practices, and teachers were implementing their new strategies with consistency and fidelity. Students, parents and staff were thrilled when their school reached ‘Exemplary’ status that spring.
“Page has been a catalyst for change and has brought courageous leadership to the schools she has served,” Stewart said. “As an advocate for all students and as a principal who is respected for her integrity and character, Mrs. Page is highly valued and appreciated by her staff and her peers.”
The move to Giesinger and the resulting “Exemplary” status is all the more impressive because she achieved it without removing any personnel, Husbands said.
“Page’s leadership of teachers and support personnel is only surpassed by her absolute love for children,” he said. “She is amazing in that she is adored by all, while requiring excellence from all. This takes a unique person with skills that are rarely combined in one individual.”
Page’s support has also extended to budding teachers; at Rice Elementary School, where she served as both assistant principal and principal, Page began a joint collaboration with SHSU to place pre-service teachers for field experience, which continued after she moved to Reaves.
“She not only opened her doors to the SHSU students, but gave them welcoming breakfasts, encouraging talks about teaching, and practice sessions with interviewing,” said Joyce McCauley, SHSU reading professor. “Under her leadership, O.A. Reaves became SHSU’s first Professional Development School.
“I dare to say that in no other school is there such a visible, shared commitment to innovative and reflective practice and such a high level of ongoing and reciprocal professional development.”
SHSU alumna Kimberly Falkenbury had spent a year substitute teaching at her alma mater in Navasota after graduation when she was asked by the junior high principal to teach computer literacy.
“I laughed when he told me that. I went to school with every intention of being a high school typing and accounting teacher,” she said. “I knew very little about computers and did not want to teach a computer class.”
But at the principal’s insistence, Falkenbury agreed, and began studying “as much as my students did that first year, trying to learn everything I could about computers,” she said.
After putting her computer skills to use with Navasota’s master schedule, a task charged to the counselor who was out at the time, the school’s administration approached her once again about a subject change, this time requesting she become a counselor. And again she complied.
She returned to SHSU to earn her master’s degree in school education and has been the full-time counselor at Navasota Junior High since 2000.
An “exemplary example of a truly dedicated educator,” Falkenbury is the SHSU College of Education’s “Distinguished Support Professional.”
“Kimberly is an exemplary counselor, who knows and understands the developmental stages of the students she counsels,” said Carol Woehler, Navasota ISD technology specialist. “She can be firm, but the caring love she has for the students is still evident to the students. I have known her to stay after school and attend sporting activities of students she is working with, in support of all their growth, not just the academics.”
Her work for the more than 600 students at NJHS includes establishing an annual awards ceremony that recognizes students for their work, creating the honor roll, developing personal graduation plans for students who fail any portion of the TAKS test, implementing a Pre-AP program, establishing a partnership with the Brazos Valley Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse to speak with students about drug awareness, and organizing the PRIDE program that recognizes students for grades, conduct and attendance.
“You have been the best counselor we have ever had. You know the answers to my concerns. You make me think I can do all I need to accomplish,” one junior high student said. “We are so lucky to have Mrs. Falkenbury as the one to let us know what we need to become in the future (and) what we need to do.”
“When it comes to supporting the education of our young people, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo puts its money where its mouth is,” according to Robert Lane, SHSU professor of agricultural sciences.
“I don’t think you’ll find a bigger or better ‘Friend of Education’ than the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo,” he said.
Since 1957, when the show established its first college scholarship, the HLSR has committed more than $140 million in direct educational program support, including “metropolitan scholarships” for public high school students in eight counties and need-based “opportunity scholarships,” as well as scholarships for high school students who participate in agriculture-related organizations, the Area Go Texan program for students outside the Houston area and for HLSR art and exhibition winners.
The organization also provides assistantship awards to agriculture graduate students pursuing master’s degrees at 11 state universities, including an annual contribution of $37,800 to support SHSU grad students, as well as for students at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the Texas Christian University Ranch Management Program
“The HLSR funds that allow those students to further their educational goals are multiplied many fold by the assignment of the graduate assistants to instructional roles in our undergraduate laboratory classes,” Lane said. “They have supported from three to six graduate assistants for our department each year for the past 25 years.”
Outside of the agricultural arena, the Livestock Show and Rodeo provides grants and educational funding to support summer workshops, leadership programs, conferences, programs such as the Texas High School Aerospace Scholars Program and educational outreach for Alley Theatre, Theater Under the Stars, Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Symphony.
“The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has greatly influenced my educational experience,” said SHSU sophomore Mindy Eckerman, a biology major. “HLSR is an amazing organization helping students that cannot afford a college education but deserve one. This organization is a blessing to me and many other fortunate students who have received a scholarship.”
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