To thunderous applause, first-grade teacher Dana Kelly stepped to the podium before a crowd of hundreds and accepted the title of St. John’s County 2017 Teacher of the Year.
The majority of the audience saw a beaming woman with 13 years of teaching service within the district.
But a few onlookers, namely first-grade students from her classroom at Cunningham Creek Elementary, saw the captain of their ship standing at the helm of victory.
Kelly is, after all, the fearless leader of a “pirate crew.” Throughout the school year, she teaches lessons that coincide with a world map, encouraging her pupils to “sail the seven seas.”
But the crew isn’t plundering and instigating mayhem. Instead they’re collecting toothbrushes for children in Honduras, or making shoes for children in Uganda. Compassion and selflessness are lessons Kelly emphasizes outside traditional textbook learning.
“Ms. Kelly’s students become world changers while in her classroom, striving to make positive impacts in their classroom, school, community and the world,” said Superintendent Tim Forson.
Kelly began teaching at Cunningham Creek in 2010 and has since left lasting impressions on students and their families. She’s known for her unique teaching methods, ranging from donation drives to quirky, hands-on experiments structured around teamwork and empathy.
When she’s not in the classroom, she’s actively involved in volunteer leadership programs. She’s traveled to Honduras to teach children reading and math. She’s even created a school video titled “More Than a Number,” which reminds teachers that test scores aren’t the entirety of their self-worth.
Hundreds of teachers, administrators and school supporters packed the ballroom in the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village on Monday evening to hear the well-deserved announcement. As Kelly took the stage, screams and whistles shook the conference hall.
In addition to winning a new car from Beaver Toyota St. Augustine, Kelly will be included for consideration as the Florida Department of Education Macy’s Teacher of the Year 2017.
Rookie of the year
Kaley Still from Creekside High School was named St. Johns County 2017 Rookie of the Year for her ability to individualize teaching for high-need students.
Still is in her second year of teaching and works with ESE students with intellectual disabilities. Before her teaching career, she was a camp counselor who helped students transition in and out of the classroom by riding the bus with them. Her methods of instruction vary based on individual comprehension, and she spends additional hours every week creating lesson plans that cater to a variety of learning needs.
“[She] believes that if a student has a hard time with a specific skill, then it is the teacher’s responsibility to come up with a different way of presenting the information to achieve success,” said Forson.
Still said it’s important to mimic a typical high school classroom for her students. She uses group lessons to institute participation and expand reading skills. She also creates several versions of each lesson to support different learning styles among her students.
“When people think her students aren’t capable of achieving, she strives to be the teacher who proves them wrong,” Forson said.
She is the “Best Buddies” adviser at Creekside, and under her leadership, the school was awarded the Best Buddies top fundraising chapter and chapter of year for the state of Florida.
Upon accepting her award, Still kept her message simple and humble.
“This is because of my students,” she said. “They are the reason I become a better person every day.”