Jenn Stuart named West Grand Teacher of the Year

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photo by Kim Cameron | Jenn Stuart shows the work involved in becoming National Board Certified.
photo by Kim Cameron | Jenn Stuart shows the work involved in becoming National Board Certified.

Jenn Stuart, of West Grand High School, was named Teacher of the Year at the district’s Celebration of Excellence earlier in May.

“I was surprised, honored and humbled,” said Stuart of the peer-nominated recognition. “Being recognized by my colleagues makes the award even more special.”

Stuart was quick to share the title of Teacher of the Year with her co-workers, “We all work hard. I represent the whole. I wouldn’t be who I am without every department and every teacher in this building. I really want to acknowledge the Special Education (SPED) department, the English Language Learners (ELL) department, and the Gifted and Talented (GT) department for all their help with the design, the implementation, and the assessment of the lessons I teach to best impact student learning.”

As a teacher, Stuart takes pride in meeting the needs of a diverse classroom. “It takes a group effort to positively impact student’s learning and to teach to the highest level possible. We need to embrace diversity,” said Stuart who teaches with the “end in mind” and encourages metacognition (awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes).

When planning for her English Language Arts classes for 9-12th graders, Stuart makes sure she teaches to the students by identifying the needs of the class through data analysis, formative assessments, and summative assessments. Organized and focused, her weekly and daily agendas are always on the board to provide structure and routine to best ensure that every student has a chance to shine by using a variety of teaching methods.

With a Masters in Physical Education and a Bachelors in English, she incorporates both methodologies into her classroom. The high school is currently using a block schedule, and her 110 minute classes begin with 7-10 minutes of physical movement, which can range from playing catch with bean bags, to circuits and stretching, to knee tag, to dance. “Integrating physical activity in the regular classroom has become more important in an increasingly sedentary society, and research proves that physical activity stimulates brain activity and health.”

She testifies these minutes also promote relationship building. There is often giggling, admiration, and collaboration as students unearth hidden talents for Ultimate Frisbee and hopscotch.

Describing her teacher as kind, understanding and passionate, freshman Trina Gonzales agrees, “Some activities that Ms. Stuart does that are fun are Ultimate Frisbee, beanbag toss and her physical activities.”

Gonzales continued saying, “Ms. Stuart’s best quality is making sure all of her students understand each topic thoroughly.”

Stuart conscientiously provides picture support for her ELL learners, and she uses technology to access programs that support students in making connections between classic literature and modern day to build knowledge to better understand the human experience: reading current event articles, participating in group protocols, blogging reflections. “This is adult learning. They are engaging in what they might see in business,” she says.

This year Stuart also implemented Socratic Seminars, which use a grounding question to initiate student-led discussions while using strong communication skills when leading and responding to the conversation. From this an ELL student commented he has never loved English as much as he does now because he feels he can effectively communicate his thoughts through the various avenues provided to him in Stuart’s class.

As a life-long learner, Stuart also takes her own professional development seriously. She is currently becoming a Nationally Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), which is a two-five year rigorous and demanding professional development program. She applied and was selected to be a member of the inaugural NBCT Cohort through the Colorado Department of Education; she is one of 17 rural teachers across the state participating. A year into the program Stuart says, “It is one of the hardest professional development processes I have endured, but it is the most valuable program to positively impact student learning. It has transformed my teaching practice.”

Stuart acknowledges, “As a teacher, I am really fortunate to have an administration that is so supportive of us continuing our professional development.”

Stuart also utilizes teacher learning communities (TLC) provided by Northwest BOCES in Steamboat Springs, and she has participated in 14 offerings over the past three years: TLCs, Content Development Teams, Book Studies, Independent Studies. “I can work regionally with teachers and administrators in person and in virtual meetings to dive deeply into focus areas that improve my teaching practices and positively impact student learning.”

Through these groups Stuart is asked to implement lessons, assess her progress and self-reflect. “We are not teaching on an island. It is a group effort, and we all share ideas. Collaboration leads to excellence.” Stuart expanded to say she engages her students in teacher appointed groups and roles to build their collaboration and soft skills to better support them in college and career readiness.

As part of the ELL team, Stuart also leads professional development sessions to show best teaching practices and give ideas that could be easily implemented into the classroom. “We are a team at West Grand and fortunately, we have a growth mindset,” said Stuart who has 13 years of teaching experience.

Principal Elizabeth Bauer commented, “Mrs. Stuart is such a positive leader for students and staffulty. Her commitment to her own professional growth is astounding. The work she does in leading professional development for others is impactful and important. I am so proud to work alongside her.”

Sophomore Kaela Schafer who describes Stuart as caring also recognized how hard her teacher works, “She works out every morning. Her best quality is her worth ethic. She’s hardworking and gets her stuff done.”

“I want to be the best version of me,” said Stuart expressing gratitude to her deceased Mom whom taught her to give 100% effort in all of her endeavors. “My Mom taught me the value of being involved in the community through coaching, volunteering, and mentoring.” Stuart also teaches students the value of giving their time in the community- she challenges them to be a part of the solution to whatever issue arises.

For the past nine years, Stuart has managed a ski program for the Winter Park Competition Center, which incidentally, is ranked number one in the nation by the United States Ski and Snowboard Association. On Fridays, she also teaches in the Fifth Day program for Colorado AeroLab. The curriculum for Colorado AeroLab was recognized by former First Lady Michelle Obama and placed into the presidential library.

As a parent of four teenagers, Stuart has often served many roles within the community around her children’s sports and activities.