Learning remotely the past few years might have made even the most technologically savvy students eager to step away from the computer. That made things challenging for Walton Charter Academy Library Technology Specialist Rachel Licata.
She said that because students were so used to using computers, interest in her class fizzled a bit. What was once a welcome opportunity that satisfied students’ appetite for screentime became just another block spent in front of the computer.
To keep students interested, Licata taught lessons on coding and robotics. For her efforts, she was honored as an Excellence in Teaching winner as part of the National Heritage Academies (NHA) Excellence Awards for the 2021-22 school year.
“I had to change. I do this every year because technology changes every year, but I tweaked my instruction and my topics every year to try and pique their interest in different ways,” she said. “Coding really took off last year, and I think the kids really enjoyed that. All grade levels, they said, ‘I want to see the robots. We want to do coding.’ I'm like, ‘Awesome. Let’s do it.’”
Licata is in her 16th year at Walton, which has outperformed the local district for 13 years. She started as a substitute teacher but became a third grade teacher when a position opened just as the school year began. She taught third grade for two years, then moved to her current role as library technology specialist, which allows her to teach K-8.
In addition to teaching computer class, she provides services for the school library, runs the school’s book fair, fixes computers, and puts together the yearbook. Licata also monitors testing in the media center, giving teachers a reprieve from having to do so in their classrooms.
“Rachel creates a learning environment that allows students to thrive,” said Principal Mona Boersma. “Her high expectations transfer to students having high expectations for themselves. She helps students become leaders of their own progress and the school. Rachel gets to know students and will stop what she is doing to listen to and help any and every child, teammate, or parent. Rachel is an amazing educator.”
Licata has been at Walton long enough to see many colleagues and students come and go, but the moving parts don’t change the fact that it’s a place that means a lot to her, as evidenced by her 40-minute daily commute.
“We have a very nice community. It’s my Walton family,” she said. “I love the people that I work with. Even though it has changed, there’s still some of us that been there from the start, but I just can’t find myself to leave.
I’ve been there for so long I’m teaching my students’ kids because they’re bringing their children back, so that's cool to see. It’s a great community.”
Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Licata!
Check out a school near you!
Walton Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Pontiac, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
Visit Walton Charter Academy's blog to read more stories like this.