Connection key for Teacher of the Year finalist from Craig | CraigDailyPress.com

Connection key for Teacher of the Year finalist from Craig

CRAIG — Creating meaningful connections is the key to a more peaceful future, according to Sunset Elementary School kindergarten teacher Amy Jones.

Jones is one of six teachers nominated to become Colorado's Teacher of the Year, with the sole finalist to be announced by Nov. 1.

In Jones’ classroom, students learn to respect the differences and celebrate the similarities of people, both in their community and around the world. She does this by connecting with her students, their parents, other teachers, and students around the world.

About the first of these four levels of connection, Jones said, "Learning and academic growth cannot occur until relationships and trust is established with each child."

She strives to make each child feel safe and loved, to have structure and know boundaries, to feel successful, and to feel OK to" fail forward," all so they feel empowered and that they have contributions to make to the world.

"True connections keep students visiting years after they've left your classroom, with graduation and wedding invitations and hellos and hugs in the grocery store," Jones said.

Establishing trust and relationships with parents and caregivers is also essential to learning success, and Jones does this by "over-communicating" in their home language and asking for help that fits their individual circumstances.

"When family involvement is low, student motivation, attendance, and ultimately, academic success are in jeopardy," she said.

Jones also values her connections with her peers. Her teaching partner of many years, teacher Amber Beaver, said, "Amy brings experiences to her students that they would otherwise not have. … It's almost as if magic happens as her classroom is transformed into anything from the Arctic, an airport, a Post Office, or even a Plymouth plantation. She brings the experiences to her students in such a realistic way, they really believe they are Pilgrims sailing on the Mayflower, Native Americas growing a garden, airplane pilots flying a plane …"

Another way Jones connects her classroom to the rest of the world is through social media — a website, Skype and Twitter.

A map labeled with stickers shows the places Amy Jone’s kindergarten class connections to other classrooms via Skype.
A map of the world displays stickers showing the locations where Amy Jone’s kindergarten class tweets with other students and teachers.

"Technology and innovation are the bridge between rural students. Students need to apply and transfer their knowledge to real work experiences and problem," Jones said.

Each day, her students tweet with fellow students in Manitoba, Beirut, Hong Kong, and Croatia.

This year, Jones is working with former Moffat County resident and kindergarten teacher Dani Kawcak to create play and learning dates between classes in Craig and Thayne, Wyoming. Jones’ class will also be Skyping with a kindergarten class in Manitoba, Canada.

"This is part of my work — to create authentic, project-based learning to connect students," she said.

Jones has taught in Craig for nine years, and she taught in Littleton Public Schools 11 years before coming to Craig. She holds multiple degrees from Colorado universities, including a master’s of education degree in diverse learning.

The six Teacher of the Year finalists — four from the Front Range and two from western Colorado — were selected from 48 teachers who were self-nominated or nominated by their community, students, parents, peers, and/or school administrators.

Sunset Principal Jill Hafey nominated Jones and said of the teacher, "Her passion shines through each day, every minute, in every subject."

Once nominated, Jones had to complete an application and an interview and provide letters of support. One letter was from retired teacher and learning coach Cheryl Arnett, who said, "Amy can always be counted on as a positive, proactive member of the school community."

Outside school, she is president of the Sage Brush Reading Council, which puts books into children’s hands throughout the year, including during the annual literacy fair and over the summer, when Jones helps take the bookmobile to neighborhood parks.

"These six finalists are all innovative leaders in their school communities and compassionate and inspiring educators in their classrooms," said Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes, who added, "Any one of them would be an excellent ambassador for the teaching profession."

The Colorado Teacher of the Year becomes the state's nominee for the National Teacher of the Year competition.

"Having a Colorado Teacher of the Year finalist is a great honor for Amy, Sunset Elementary School, and Moffat County School District," said Superintendent Dave Ulrich. "Amy is a wonderful teacher who is dedicated to improving outcomes for her students. As a district and community, we are happy and proud that she chooses Moffat County School District." 

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

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