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Menomonie, Wis. — Inside school walls may have been the coolest place in August for a group of University of Wisconsin-Stout early childhood education graduates teaching in the desert southwest, in Arizona.
Six 2011 alumni, all in their first jobs and five in their first year, are teaching within 35 miles of each other. Four of them are kindergarten teachers at Imagine Coolidge Elementary in Coolidge, south of Phoenix. The other two are at schools in the nearby towns of Chandler and Gilbert, in the Phoenix metro area.
School started Aug. 6.
The four alumni at Imagine Coolidge are Amanda Mitchell of Farmington, Minn.; Lauryn Engleman of Andover, Minn.;Brandon Baldry, of New Auburn; and Robin Maukstad, of Colfax.
Imagine Coolidge, kindergarten through sixth grade, has 36 instructors and 830 students.
Emalee Sparks, of Rochester, Minn., teaches at American Leadership Academy in Gilbert. Sara Weix, of Durand, is at Athlos Traditional Academy, part of Legacy Traditional Schools, in Chandler. Both schools go through eighth grade.
Many of the UW-Stout graduates found out about open positions through Mitchell, who is in her second year at Imagine Coolidge. When she heard of the openings, she sent out the word.
Imagine Coolidge Principal Michelle Stout, no relation to UW-Stout’s founder James Huff Stout, is happy with the UW-Stout contingent, the highest represented university at the school. “Teachers from the Midwest have an awesome work ethic and are excellent teachers,” she said.
The school also recruits teachers from Michigan and Minnesota.
In their new surroundings, the Arizona group gets together from time to time to unwind and talk about their new vocations.
They and other ECE alumni, not only in Arizona, also keep in touch with each other in person and online. They share teaching ideas and resources, upload pictures of their classrooms and comment on each other’s statuses on the UW-Stout early childhood education Facebook page.
“If one of us had a rough day, you can count on the Stout grads to make a nice comment to cheer you up and lift your spirits,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell was hired in July 2011 and shortly thereafter made the trek from Minnesota to Arizona, arriving within a week of the start of school.
“My resume was ready, since I worked with Stout’s Career Services, and I really believe it was a large part of getting me this job,” Mitchell said. “I had a phone interview and was instantly offered the kindergarten position.”
One year later Mitchell is breathing a little easier. “I lived through my first year as a teacher, and it was the hardest year of my life, but I learned so much,” she said.
She is now the kindergarten team lead since the other three members are new to the school and are first-time teachers. “It is strange being in such a leading role my second year teaching, but I love it,” Mitchell said.
One thing she has learned over the year is how important she is to her students. “Most come from poor backgrounds and it is up to me to be a good role model, a trusted friend, a provider of learning resources and sometimes of snacks or lunches. These students love their teachers more than ever, and all they need is a chance to really make a difference,”Mitchell said.
Despite the angst of her first year, Mitchell — like her UW-Stout colleagues — said she feels well-prepared to teach. She thanks her professors and peers for her success.
Engleman was born in Arizona but grew up in Minnesota. When looking for a job, she was open to employment in any state, although returning to Arizona had been in the back of her mind, she said.
“I heard about the job on a Monday, sent my resume to the school on Tuesday, got a call for an interview on Wednesday, had my phone interview on Friday and was offered the job shortly after. What a week,” she said.
Engleman is learning as well as teaching. “I am learning how flexible you have to be and to over-plan because the worst thing that can happen is you don’t have enough things planned for your day,” she said.
She also is learning the importance of taking time for herself: “As a teacher, my job never ends. When I get home from school and on the weekends, I am constantly working.” She has decided to allow Saturdays as personal days. “No work, no school, just relaxation … preferably by the pool,” she said.
First-grade teacher Weix applied to Athlos Traditional Academy because she wanted to work at a charter school. “I really liked how they could choose their own curriculum,” she said. She also likes that teachers work in teams.
Weix always wanted to be an elementary school teacher and chose UW-Stout because of its excellent program, she said.
Maukstad heard about the job through Engleman, who told her Imagine was looking for another kindergarten teacher. “I emailed my resume to Lauryn. A couple days later the principal called me to set up a phone interview. I had my interview and they offered me the job,” Maukstad said.
Imagine Coolidge was the only out-of-state position she applied for. Knowing so many people from UW-Stout has helped. “It’s nice to see familiar faces.”
The UW-Stout alumni have 22 to 33 students in their classrooms.
“It is a lot to handle at times and is a challenge, but I feel it is helping me become a better teacher,” Engleman said of her 33 “wonderful students. I am learning how to perfect my classroom management skills and am finding out what works and what doesn’t.”
UW-Stout’s ECE coursework and student teaching experiences also are serving the alumni well. “Because of Dr. Jill’s intensive lessons on how to write objectives, I am able to incorporate that into my lesson plans and really know and understand what I am teaching my students,” Engleman said, referring to ECE program director Jill Klefstad.
“I have been able to apply so many of the skills that were taught in my classes,” Weix said.