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Family, the joy in teaching children and inspiring each other cited as themes for the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year team

Family, the joy in teaching children and inspiring each other cited as themes for the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year team

Family, each student matters and the joy of teaching were the main themes that emerged this week during a presentation by members of the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year team to the Kansas State Board of Education. 

“There’s a special kind of joy in witnessing the spark of inspiration ignite in the minds of our future Kansas teachers,” Cherryl Delacruz told board members on Thursday. “Our hope is to give joy and to share our joy and inspire them. But in return, we were more inspired by their passion, their energy, their enthusiasm about Kansas education.” 

Delacruz, a math teacher at Highland Park High School, Topeka USD 501, was referring to when she and members of the 2024 KTOY team this past school year visited with students at Emporia State University who are studying to be teachers.   

“We also emphasized how you can make a difference in just two or three minutes” when teaching, Delacruz added. “We talked about how we are stronger together.”  

Other members of the 2024 team that presented to the board in Topeka this week included Michelle Tapko, an English language arts (ELA) and social studies teacher at Roesland Elementary School, Shawnee Mission USD 512; Fonda Telthorst, a music teacher at Piper Prairie Elementary School, Piper USD 203; and Taylor Bussinger, the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year and a social studies teacher at Prairie Trail Middle School, Olathe USD 233.  

Telthorst said the visits the team made to each others’ districts and presenting at universities and colleges throughout Kansas fostered a strong sense of connection and belonging among team members and the profession.  

“It all began with building our family,” she said. “We know as teachers that we have to build relationships with our students, but we don’t always have enough time to build our relationships among the teachers as well as with our decision-makers. And as we traveled the state, our family became very big. We added to the family everywhere we went.” 

Like their visit with Emporia State students. Telthorst recalled one of the most fun visits for the team was to the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth where they were able to sit with student teachers and problem solve. 

“That was so meaningful,” she said. “And we brought them into the family where we shared ideas and answered questions and helped them solve problems.”  

Tapko told board members she grew up in Lenexa and attended Shawnee Mission USD 512 schools, taught in Blue Valley USD 229 and then later returned to teach in the Shawnee Mission district.  

“That’s my bubble,” she said. “I don’t know anything else about the schools in Kansas and going to everybody’s district was really meaningful to understand that it’s not just about my district and it’s not just about my experiences. It’s about everyone’s.” 

Tapko said she was equally struck by the similarities and differences among the districts the team visited across the state. She said Goddard USD 265’s “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” program in particular had a significant impact on her and the other team members. 

“We literally had our hearts captured,” she told board members. “They were all in it, all their heart for kids and every building we walked into was just very, just so loving.”  

Tapko said whenever the team visited a district, “somebody knew somebody who knew somebody and there were connections made.” 

“We are all connected to each other, like in the very close-knit ways or in the twice removed,” she said. “The district visits were just amazing for me because what I found out was, we are all loving kids well, differently, and it’s all good and we can learn from each other, no matter how big or small.” 

Bussinger rounded out the presentation by telling board members teaching is “the best job that there is, and it is a calling.”   

“This entire year was about bringing joy to education,” he said. “It was about bringing our authentic selves and who we are in bringing energy for education because Lord knows we need that, to bring authenticity, to bring enthusiasm and energy for what we do because we’re all here for young people.” 

“Getting to travel the state has increased my Kansas pride tremendously but I’ve also learned that our Kansas schools are thriving,” Bussinger continued. “Our young people are curious, they’re enthusiastic and they are reaching for the stars, and they will change the world because they have amazing teachers that support them. It’s because of my friends and the 40,000 other teachers in our state that thousands of Kansas kids feel heard and know that they matter.” 

Bussinger said when our schools are lifted as pillars in our community, Kansas communities thrive. 

“We have the power to say something or do something in one day, in one moment in time that can change the trajectory of someone’s entire life,” he said. “That’s the power of educators.” 

The other four members of the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year team who were not able to present at the board meeting due to scheduling conflicts were Joanna Farmer, an agriculture teacher at Southeast High School, Wichita USD 259; Erin Pittenger, an art teacher at St. George Elementary School, Rock Creek USD 323; Gretchen Elliott, an art teacher at Smoky Valley High School, Smoky Valley USD 400; and Melissa Haney, a teacher at Explorer Elementary School, Goddard USD 265. 

Posted: Jun 13, 2024,
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