Educators have long been the pillars of change, growth, and excellence in our community, which is the reason we are celebrating Extraordinary Educators in High Point every month.
If you missed last month’s Extraordinary Educator post, you can find it here.
This month, we’re taking it a step beyond those who educate in High Point, and we’re showcasing teachers who have been educated in High Point. Meet Coshenda Clark, Wendy Kitley, and Jakima Ledbetter, this month’s Extraordinary Educators who all happen to be alumnae of High Point University. These incredible women took all of what they learned at HPU, as well as their lives as High Point citizens, and decided to put it to good use in their community.
Read below to find out more about each of these educators (and proud Panthers!)
“I would tell my students to always do their best and expect excellence. Don’t get upset when you encounter a teacher who has high expectations. They are just raising the academic, social and behavioral bar so that scholars are not able to slide under. Doing just the minimal isn’t enough. Use your skills to leap over the bar by setting a standard of excellence. Remember you are the brightest stars in the sky so let your light shine so others will follow.”
– Coshenda Clark
Coshenda Clark, a second-grade teacher at Johnson Street Global Studies was named Teacher of the Year at her school, as well as a Teacher of the Year finalist for all of Guilford County Schools. One of the first steps on her journey as a High Point educator came soon after she was hired as a teacher’s assistant at Shadybrook Elementary in 1994.
“I was so excited about this new opportunity. Eager to learn all I could from the veterans around me, I looked and listened. This is where I met Rachel Gardner, the first-grade teacher whose class I was assigned,” Coshenda says. “Mrs. Gardner allowed me to work directly with the students. She said I was not there to just make copies and take kids to the playground.”
Coshenda went on to pursue her passion of elementary education with Rachel Gardner’s lead, and it was through this experience that she came to hold the philosophy of education she uses in her classroom to this day.
“It is my belief that every child deserves to have a village that loves and supports them along the path of life,” Coshenda explains. “The most memorable thing Mrs. Gardner taught me is the importance of building relationships. Relationships are instrumental in educating the whole child. I look for ways to connect with the students, their families, and the community.”
She recalls one specific instance when a student tearfully entered her classroom for an Open House. Coshenda pulled him aside and informed the student that he was exactly where he was supposed to be. “I told him I teach the brightest kids in the county,” she says. “We had a great year of learning from each other. Needless to say, when the school year was over he didn’t want to go to third grade.”
Coshenda jokes that she would have been voted “Most Likely to Talk to Strangers” in high school, as her friendly and outgoing nature has been in evidence since her childhood. And it’s through this kind of enthusiasm that she has created a loving, supportive environment for her students, while never compromising on challenging excellence.
“I get excited to walk into the building every day because I teach the most amazing kids in Guilford County,” she says. “Each year I get students who are eager and reluctant to enter my classroom. The joy of watching them excel academically as well as socially and emotionally excites me.”
Check out Coshenda’s Amazon Wish List!
“Focus on kindness and to see it in others. Kindness is powerful. In my class we have kindness cards. When a student observes an act of kindness they are empowered to make note of it on a kindness card and deposit in the ‘kindness jar.’ Each Friday, we read them aloud and celebrate acts of kindness… because kindness is contagious.”
– Wendy Kitley
Wendy Kitley, our second HPU alum, is a third-grade teacher and Teacher of the Year at Southwest Guilford Elementary School. Wendy, like Coshenda, teaches on the basis that challenging your students is what allows them to grow.
“My personal teaching style is action, movement, activity, creativity and fun. I not only work to fulfill the subject objectives of the school and county, but do so with a mindset of excellence, not perfection,” Wendy says. “My motto is from Mary Poppins: ‘In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.’ My job is to find this and show our children, to help them work hard and promote their self-esteem.”
Wendy says that the moments that stand out to her most, as successes, are when she sees “the look” cross one of her students’ faces.
“When a child gets ‘the look’ in their eyes (that every teacher can recognize) you know they’ve ‘got it.’ They are excited and want to keep going,” she explains. “They want to share that knowledge with you for a reassurance, a comfort or acknowledgement they are on the right track.” And it’s in those moments that Wendy can see the depth of impact she is having on her students.
“My greatest impact upon my students’ lives is showing them that learning is fun and how to believe in themselves,” she says. “That it is not ‘I can’t’ but rather, it is ‘I can.’ I live this philosophy every day… I have a huge responsibility that I cherish, am thankful and take very seriously.”
Wendy calls her classroom the land of “I can,” because it’s a place she wants them to feel comfortable and safe to work hard to achieve big goals.
“We highlight success and we are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. We clap for each other and celebrate our joys. We speak positively and reward milestones,” she says. “My personal teaching style is part of that holistic person… It’s who I am: a teacher blessed to have the opportunity to live, learn and teach in the land of ‘I can.’”
“I would like my students to know: I am your future. I was you growing up, I went to the same school, lived in the same neighborhoods you live in now. I had a wonderful mom and some great teachers who believed in me. They pushed me to be more than I ever thought possible. They helped me realize that where I started did not determine where I ended up. Once I began to believe in myself, I soared. I want you to know that right now you are at the starting line to your future. I want you to push beyond what is expected of you to reach the highest mountains so you can finish better than ever before. Most importantly, believe that you are someone and you can achieve all your goals.”
– Jakima Ledbetter
HPU alum and third-grade teacher at Oak Hill Elementary School, Jakima Ledbetter, was nominated as an Extraordinary Educator by her principal, Dr. Candice Bailey, who said Jakima, “Works tirelessly in the community with unmatched passion for students.”
Jakima is another teacher who sees it as her responsibility to encourage her students to their fullest potential. She remembers one student in particular who proved to challenge her patience with his resistance to learning and growing in her classroom.
“Despite what happened each day, I would always have a smile on my face the next day. I refused to give up on him and he was determined to fail,” Jakima says. “He was sure the day would come when I would excuse him from my room but I never allowed him to take the easy way out. He stayed, and I taught.”
When the time came for the end-of-year tests, this student received one of the highest scores in the class. Jakima says that his score isn’t what stood out to her. What stood out to her was the letter she received from him the next week, which said,
“Thank you for not giving up on me. I didn’t understand why you were so hard on me and now I do. I would never have done this if you hadn’t believed in me…” Jakima says it was at this moment that she realized teaching was her chance to change someone’s life.
“I get excited everyday knowing that I have an opportunity to walk into a classroom of smiling faces,” she says. “I get excited knowing I am the consistent, positive role model in their life: the person who can help them achieve their goals and introduce them to a world of possibilities.”
Jakima says that the High Point school system is first and foremost a family.
“We have students who, despite their circumstances, come to school everyday with a strong desire to learn in order to successfully fulfill their potential. We have parents who have high expectations for their children, who are willing to partner with their child’s teacher to meet all goals set. We have community partners who believe in our vision to give students the tools they need today to be successful for tomorrow.”
Check out Jakima’s Amazon Wish List!
Discovering our High Points,
Photography by Maria West Photography