Wednesday, 01 May 2013 13:08

Dundalk Chamber of Commerce honoree Thelma Jachelski in her Single Step classroom at CCBC Dundalk. photo by Roland Dorsey

Life learning informs Jachelski’s teaching

     Four local teachers were honored by the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce during its ninth annual Teacher Recognition Awards Dinner last week at Martin’s East.
    Seventeen elementary school, middle school, high school and college teachers were nominated for the awards.
    The recipients of the outstanding teacher awards were Cathy Cunningham of Charlesmont Elementary; Jason Adams of General John Stricker Middle School; Nancy Yetter of Dundalk High; and Thelma Jachelski of CCBC Dundalk.

by John G. Bailey
I n a twist on the adage: “Life is the best teacher,” Thelma Jachelski’s life made her the best teacher.
    Her recognition as the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year for 2012-13 stems from years of experience with a son with multiple disabilities outside the classroom. Raising Matt both prepared Jachelski for and led her to a career as a language arts teacher in the Single Step program at CCBC
    The program has been helping students with multiple disabilities transition into the regular curricula or employment for 40 years.
    “I’m on this path,” she said when asked to explain how she got to where she is today. “I have a passion for reading that I instill in my students.”
    Student achievement speaks to her success. “I’m proud to say, most of my students really grow,” she said unabashedly.   
    The average rate of growth for Single Step students is 1.5 years per semester. For Jachelski’s students, it’s 2 to 3 years per semester.
    The diversity of abilities in a typical Single Step classroom highlights Jacheski’s accomplishment as a teacher. In classes that range in size from 9 to 15 students, whose ages range from 16 to 60, each student is different. “The spectrum of disabilities runs from autism to down syndrome to emotional problems. “There’s never one type of student,” she said, “All are different.”
    Echoing a sentiment all veteran teachers can attest to, she spoke of the rewarding sense of personal satisfaction when a struggling student finally “gets it.” 
    High expectation helps explain her success. Where others might see hopelessness, she sees potential.    
    To better teach reading, she shifted the focus of the class curriculum after she started teaching, relying less on  reading guides and introducing topics more interesting to Single Step students.
    Jachelski requires each of her students to read a book a semester, and then to do a report on it.
    To cope with debilitating speech defects that frustrate many of her students, she emphasises  public speaking in her classes.
    One of the high points in her career came last year during an end-of-the-semester ceremony at the school. When a young man with Down syndrome was having difficulty with a speech, another Down syndrome student got up and helped him.
    “I can’t say enough about Single Step,” Jachelski fulminated. “It gives adult disabled people the ability to live life to their fullest.”
    She gets as much from her students as they get from her.
    The death of her son Matt in 2006 left Jachelski in need of something to do to fill the void. She worked with disabled seniors for awhile but felt at loose ends. She finally found herself again as a classroom aide in the Single Step program at CCBC. When a language arts teacher vacancy opened up, she jumped at the chance.
    “My students make me feel like a whole person again,” she exlaimed.

Adams: more than a typical music teacher

by Ben Boehl

    Jason Adams is not your typical instrumental music teacher. He has been a staple at Gen. John Stricker Middle School for the last 14 years. He is the faculty Grade 6 Team Leader and the mastermind behind the famous Gen. John Stricker steel band.
    His performance at the school has now been recognized community-wide as Adams was named this year’s middle school Outstanding Teacher by the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce.
    “I’m very humbled and honored. The reason why I’m being honored and recognized is because of our team. I’m not doing it all by myself,” Adams said. “This is not Jason Adams’ [award], it is a Stricker award.”
     Adams’ entire teaching career has been at Stricker. He loves the school and the community because he feels there is a “close knit” with the faculty, parents and the students. He credits many of the Stricker teachers who have now retired but had an influence on him as a young teacher.
    As a 14-year teaching veteran, Adams realizes he is starting to become one of those teachers with seniority at Stricker.
    “I’m probably in the middle. I’m still not the one (with the most seniority), but I’m getting there,” he said with a laugh.
    Adams started off as a trombone player and decided to student teach in Carroll County. Once he interacted with kids, he knew he wanted to be a music teacher.
    “I started out wanting to be a musician, but then I fell in love with teaching middle school students.”
    Stricker is known for its steel band. Adams credits Catonsville High School teacher Jim Wharton as a mentor and inspiration that led Adams to start a steel band at Stricker.    
    He said that since the principal decided to allow the band at the school, it has been nothing but success. The band was recently found playing in the front of Giant Food on Merritt Boulevard.
    Stricker principal Kathleen Owens said the band has become well known over the area for the past 13 years.
    “Their reputation is well known. They perform outside of the store at places like Giant and the nursing homes,” Owens explained. “I usually get an e-mail after the show commending  us about the steel band.”   
    Adams explained that the band has been around for so long that some of his old students have come back as adults.
    “One of the things I started was the alumni steel band. I started to see students from all walks of life,” Adams said. The alumni band has a performance once a year in March.
    Over the years, Adams has expanded his presence from the music department to a mentor for sixth-grade students.
    “I have started to shift from just music towards the whole school,” Adams added.
    One of the activities he has been involved with is the North Bay Adventure Camp where he goes with 100 students on a weeklong trip in Cecil County that gives students challenges and fun at the same time.
    Owens, who nominated Adams, said the music teacher had to do a lot of coordinating with the North Bay trip, as kids spent the night for a week and he had to get parents to apply for a grant to help cover fees.
    Owens said it was a lot of work, and over 50 percent of the students went on the trip, which she says is remarkable.
    “He is a man who goes above the call of duty,” Owens added.
    “He does a lot on his time after school. That [plan for the trip] was quite an undertaking.”   
    Owens believes that Adams has gotten more involved in the school because of the need to give male students a role model and says he has done a good job.
    When Owens told Adams he had won the Chamber award, she said he immediately thanked the other teachers and staff around him.
    “He is a very unassuming person and he really is sincere when he said that it is a team effort,” Owens
    Adams has not only grown up at Stricker, but he met his wife Janette  at the school. The couple still work together.
    “She is still teaching reading (here at Stricker),” Adams noted.
    “We will celebrate our 10-year anniversary this summer.”

Charlesmont’s Cunningham stays busy

by Nicole Rodman

    Charlesmont Elementary School music and technology teacher Cathy Cunningham stays busy.
    Now, the veteran teacher is being honored as a 2013 Outstanding Teacher of the Year by the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce.
    Each year, the Chamber honors one local teacher from each level (elementary, middle, high school and college) for excellence in teaching and community service.
    Nominated by Charlesmont principal Marsha Ayres, Cunningham was chosen for her multi-faceted roles both in and outside of the classroom.
    While she knew that Ayres had nominated her for the award, Cunningham was still “surprised and honored” when she found out she had won the prestigious award.
    Now in her 13th year at Charlesmont, and 37th year in the Baltimore County Public School system, Cunningham knew from an early age that she wanted to be a music teacher.
    “I was teaching piano lessons by the time I was 15 and always had great ease working with children,” she explained to The Eagle last week, adding,  “I’m quite sure I had only one career path.”
    Cunningham attended Towson University, earning a Bachelor’s degree in music education. She also earned a Master’s degree in education from Johns Hopkins University and, in 2006, went back to Hopkins for a second Master’s degree in Instructional Technology.
    At Charlesmont, Cunningham divides her time between her dual passions — music and technology.
    In the music department, she teaches vocal music classes to all grade levels, coordinating yearly concerts that each student participates in.
    Though it takes a lot of effort to ensure that each student gets a chance to perform each year, Cunningham noted that it is important for each student to “walk away with a love of music and a feeling of success.”
    Cunningham also leads the school’s Show Choir group and a smaller group that performs in the Baltimore County All-County Chorus each year.
    She sees music as an important and necessary part of classroom learning.
    As she explained, “Music participation benefits students in ways that are directly linked to academic achievement.”
    As principal Ayres pointed out in her nominating application for Cunningham, the busy teacher also coordinates a daily Music Moment that plays prior to school announcements each morning.
    “Mrs. Cunningham provides a broad perspective of how vocal music, instrumental music, dance and stage production can be avenues to promote a deeper understanding of the performing arts in one’s life,” Ayres wrote of Cunningham.
    In addition to her role as a music teacher at Charlesmont, Cunningham also serves as the school’s technology integration teacher.
    In this role, she teaches technolgy classes to students and aids other teachers in integrating technology into their classrooms.
    She also maintains the school’s website and manages all of the computers and hardware for the entire school.
    “She takes time to help staff members who require extra assistance with technology and she is a very good teacher of technology,” Charlesmont guidance counselor Susan Clarke wrote in a nominating letter to the Chamber of Commerce.
    Wearing a third hat, Cunningham has also led the school’s activities commemorating the area’s role in the War of 1812.
    She helped plan the school’s participation in last September’s Flag Raising Ceremony and coordinated the school’s partiicpation in Maryland Public Television’s online War of 1812 computer program.
    However, Cunningham’s expertise is not just limited to Charlesmont Elementary.
    She also serves as a technology liason for Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) and teaches technology and Continuing Professional Development courses to teachers all over the school system.
    She even helps develop curriculum for schools across Baltimore County.
    As Cunningham noted, she led currriculum writing for the BCPS Music Office two times and participated in curriculum writing an additional two times.
    She also helped write Maryland State Department of Education Courses for the Office of Professional Development and, this summer, will write curriculum for the BCPS Office of Science as a technology consultant.
    At Charlesmont, Cunningham is a deeply respected part of the school community.
    “Cathy is truly a part of Team Charlesmont,” Clarke wrote in her letter to the Chamber.
    For her myriad roles both at Charlesmont and in the community as a whole, Cunningham was  honored as part of the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 Outstanding Teachers ceremony on April 25.
    For her part, Charlesmont principal Ayres couldn’t be happier for the dedicated veteran teacher.
    As she wrote to the Chamber in her nominating application, “Cathy Cunningham is a committed educator who truly believes that Charlesmont is a true learning community.”

Yetter teaches students to feel at home in U.S.

by Bill Gates

    As chair of the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program for the Southeast Area and head of the World Language Department at Dundalk High, Nancy Yetter takes responsibility for more than just teaching students to speak English.
    Since the students served by her department are, obviously, mainly immigrants, Yetter wants to help them become involved with their new home.
    “I wanted to introduce them to their community, and, at the same time, introduce the community to them,” said Yetter, named the 2013 Outstanding High School Teacher by the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce.
    “We want to develop relationships and not be unapproachable.”
    To that end, Yetter has led her ESOL students to become involved in the Fall Festival; stuffed Easter Eggs for the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation’s Easter Egg hunt; participated in neighborhood stream cleanings; and helped out with DunFest.
    “The students are very enthusiastic about all of it,” Yetter said. “They get service hours from it, but even students who don’t need the service hours will come out and help.”
    In December, Yetter’s students designed the gingerbread house for the DRC’s Holiday Hoopla.
    “The students want to be part of the community,” Dundalk High principal Tom Shouldice said. “Nancy organizes them, leads them, and they look to her as a second mother. They’re very nice kids.”
    There is also a large number of them. Dundalk High is, in effect, the “magnet” school for ESOL students in the southeast area.
    There are over 90 students in the program, representing close to 20 different countries and nearly a dozen languages.
    “A couple of years ago there were 60 students in the program,” Shouldice said. “That reflects the change in the demographics of the community.”
    Yetter has taught at Dundalk High for 11 years. Before that, she taught with the Archdiocese of Baltimore at Catholic High, Institute of Notre Dame and St. John the Evangelist.
    A native of Downingtown, Pa. (“People only know it as an exit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike”), Yetter graduated from Dickinson University and taught Spanish and a Migrant Child Development Program in Gettysburg.
    While Spanish is the most common foreign language at Dundalk High, there are also students who speak Arabic, Nepalese, Hindi, Urdu, French, Albanian and “World English” from Africa.
    The ESOL students typically enter the program not knowing any English.
    To start, they are taught enough English to be able to ask questions. There are also ESOL teachers present with the English 9 and Algebra I classes to help their students follow the courses.
    “It’s a challenge,” Yetter said. “But when we started getting them involved in the community, getting them involved with school activities, it helps the students see they’re not much different from everyone else.”