Archbishop Hoban High School - T.K. Griffith
T.K. Griffith has always had a knack for words. “I got into teaching, honestly, because I loved to write,” he says. At the ripe age of 21, he knew he wanted to combine this love of language with another passion—coaching basketball. He was able to combine these two passions as a teacher at Archbishop Hoban High School. “This was a dream come true at the young age of 21.”
Teaching three Honors 10 English classes and two AP Language and Composition classes for eleventh graders, Griffith also shares the role of department chair. “I’m a pretty tough writing teacher, but kids come back each year thankful for having been pushed and honed,” Griffith says.
Griffith utilizes his experience as a coach every day in the classroom. “I try to build a classroom that operates like a team,” he says. “[I] introduce a concept, practice it, [and then the students] work with classmates to get better.” Whether his students are diving into classics like “The Scarlet Letter” and “The Great Gatsby” or fine-tuning their essays, Griffith guides them onward with enthusiasm.
The job doesn’t come without challenges though. In a technological age, Griffith is constantly trying to use devices, while still encouraging a love of literature. “An issue for English teachers is the movement to isolated, technological, non-verbal communication. It makes the teaching of reading and writing lost arts in a way.” iPads are used daily in the classroom to help annotate text and write small responses to assignments—teaching students the material, as well as how to use technology to analyze the classic written word.
Hoban has not only been a family tradition for Griffith, who attended the school himself, but its staff provides inspiration for him. “Hoban is full of devoted, unselfish and caring educators and people,” he says. “I’m constantly inspired by the selfless dedication of so many people here who never ask for much notice, but who greatly impact the community and the world with their love of their students.”
Lily Zaucha - Junior at Archbishop Hoban High School
What is your favorite part about attending your school? Why? I believe that Hoban is a special place. This school has a family atmosphere like no other. Teachers and students are so supportive of each other in all that we do. Whether it is in academics, athletics, or continuing our spiritual journey, there will always be a feeling of community and belonging at our school.
What are three things you love about your school? I love the family atmosphere, the Hoban traditions, and the lifelong friendships I have made.
How do the teachers at your school help you excel? The teachers at Hoban always push us to become better students through their rigorous in-class lessons and out-of-class assignments. I believe that because of this challenging atmosphere, students will be ready for the heavy workload in college and beyond.
Are you in any extracurricular activities at your school? What are they and what are your favorites? How do they add to your experience? I am on the volleyball team and swim team at Hoban. I am also involved with Unified for Uganda (U4U). Volleyball and swimming have brought me some of my closest friends and helped me learn the importance of teamwork and organization. Both sports have also taught me many leadership skills and the power of positivity. U4U is an organization that helps support childhood education in Uganda. We have fundraisers to raise money for the children we sponsor. These activities have helped me become a bigger part of the Hoban community, adding to the sense of belonging and definitely making my experience more enjoyable.
What are your plans for after graduation? After graduation, I plan to attend college and study Accounting or Computer Science.
Lawrence School - Karen Callahan
“If you ever walk into my room and it’s clean, there’s something wrong,” says science teacher Karen Callahan of Lawrence School in Sagamore Hills. On any given day, her classroom might be cluttered with bowling balls, plaster of Paris, or piles of soil. It’s not that she’s untidy; she’s looking to engage her students in the learning process. “There’s something going on all around my room; it’s hands-on [and] active,” she says.
Callahan has been teaching for 30 years and loves the creative, collaborative atmosphere at Lawrence. Her students may have learning differences like dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia, but Callahan and the team at Lawrence relish the opportunity to meet those needs with teaching methods that often seem unorthodox.
“I’ve had students in the past who have come in here feeling really defeated,” she says, “and they realized they don’t have to learn by someone just talking. We use a multisensory approach.”
The forensics class Callahan designed and teaches is a prime example of this. “We do fiber analysis, crime scene drawing, blood spatter, blood typing, fingerprints, going into documents, [using] bones to figure out missing persons.” The final exam involves processing a mock-up crime scene that includes the entire Lawrence staff and sometimes actual crime specialists. “Our first crime, I had a couple of deputy sheriffs come in to make sure I was doing it right.”
Because the students work together on the project, teamwork is key. “They know that no one person processes everything,” she says. “That’s the atmosphere in my classroom: we’re going to cooperate, we’re going to have fun, and we’re going to learn.”
The result is real-world, hands-on science learning that truly engages Callahan’s students. “They take ownership because now it means something to them, they’re doing research and presenting to the class. It’s a great way to learn.”
Callahan hopes her students will leave her classroom with a life-long love of learning. “I want them to realize that learning can be fun [and] that there’s always something more to learn.”
Gina Marie Hargett - Senior at Lawrence School
What is your favorite subject? My favorite would have to be English. Growing up, I quickly discovered that most classes offer just one correct answer—like a solution in math or a date in history—but when it comes to creative writing, the answers are endless and creativity is rewarded. The only incorrect answer is when you don’t answer at all.
What is your favorite part about attending your school? I no longer feel uncomfortable talking about my learning differences. I am dyslexic, and at my old school, I was pulled from classes because reading was a challenge for me. This made me feel ashamed and isolated. Lawrence has given me the confidence to realize that having dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed about; it just means that I process information differently. At Lawrence, learning differences no longer feel like a burden, [but] a common bond that the students share.
What advice do you have for younger students who want to excel as you have? You have to work hard and be dedicated, but that’s just the first step. The rest is up to you. Discover what drives you—whether it’s writing, like me, or the arts [or] athletics—and apply that same commitment and energy to your school work.
What are your plans for after graduation? I plan to attend college and major in creative writing. I am excited to achieve my dreams of traveling and seeing the world. I look forward to life after high school, but I’ll never stop being a Lawrence Lion!
Walsh Jesuit High School - Mary Truax
Mary Truax is constantly inspired by the students in her biology classes at Walsh Jesuit High School. Following the Jesuit tradition of mission work and concern for social justice, students from Walsh go out onto the streets of Akron every Monday and interact with homeless people. Truax has also taken students to Cleveland to work and eat in soup kitchens, where she was impressed by their aplomb and compassion. “It’s amazing what a [teenager] will do when put in a position that would otherwise be uncomfortable,” she says. “What a wonderful opportunity for kids who are fairly privileged to participate and give back and be in solidarity with [them].”
Inside the classroom, Truax likes to bring difficult biological processes to life for her students. “I think my favorite is the electron transport chain in photosynthesis and cellular respiration,” she says. The students get out of their chairs to play roles as different electrons. “They’re all running around, getting pushed against their concentration gradients and springing back,” she says. “This is not a simple concept. Seeing them start to figure [it] out is very exciting.”
Truax’s goal is to help her students get excited about learning. Part of how she does that is by seeing things from their point of view. “I’m very animated, possibly immature,” she says with a laugh. “I can definitely get on the level of a 15-year-old if need be. My style is to keep it alive.”
Nothing makes her happier than hearing from former students about how she and the other teachers at Walsh succeeded at that goal. “The biggest highlight [of my career] is getting a message from someone who’s in college or in their career, who says their preparation here in high school was what they needed,” Truax says. “That’s when I know we’re doing the right thing.”
Philip O’Dell - Senior at Walsh Jesuit High School
What is your favorite subject? My favorite subject is—and has been for as long as I can remember—science. I have always loved to learn about the world around me, and this year AP Biology and AP Chemistry have allowed me to do just that. They are both very rewarding and challenging.
What elements of the curriculum at your school have challenged you the most? English is the only subject at Walsh Jesuit [in which] I was unable, through four years, to take an honors or AP class. I love to read and write but just never quite mastered it the same way I did math and science.
What is your favorite part about attending your school? The thing I love most about Walsh is the welcoming and open atmosphere in which all are encouraged to succeed. In addition, there is a plethora of sports, as well as excellent plays and musicals for all students to attend.
How do the teachers at your school help you excel? Teachers at Walsh Jesuit are very kind and genuinely invested in the students’ lives and well-being. This makes for approachable teachers with time before, after, and during school to provide extra help.
What are your plans for after graduation? I plan to pursue a degree in biological physics and eventually a Ph.D. in molecular biology. Science will continue to dominate my studies, but I plan on beginning a life of learning languages, starting with French.
Lake Center Christian School - Eric Schlabach
When Eric Schlabach graduated from Lake Center Christian School’s eighth grade in 1998, he didn’t expect to be back. However, while studying for his education degree at Malone College, his pastor mentioned that Lake Center was expanding and looking for new teachers. That seed grew in Schlabach’s mind, and in 2006, he accepted a position teaching seventh grade reading and writing. “It’s been an adjustment,” he says. “There are still a few teachers around that I had, [and] it was easy to see myself as a student of theirs instead of a colleague.”
Schlabach runs his classes like workshops, with a combination of whole-class lessons and independent work and an emphasis on student participation. “Students choose the books they read and the topics they write about,” he says. “Choice is a big part of class.”
The ability to choose their own material is pivotal in forming students’ attitudes about reading and writing, Schlabach says. Many are reluctant to read for pleasure or view writing as merely a school chore. When a student begins to seek out new books on her own, as a young woman did a couple of years ago, Schlabach sees it as a breakthrough. “[It] was a huge change from where she started. Just being a little part of that is really cool.”
The writing component of Schlabach’s class gives him a chance to connect to his students on a personal level. “I get to know them in a little bit different way than their other teachers do,” he says. “They often write about things they probably would never talk about otherwise.” He also gets to share some of his own literary love with his class.
Schlabach hopes to inspire his students to continue reading after they leave his classroom, and he finds inspiration in the writing they produce there. “Seeing things they’ve experienced keeps me motivated to come into class each day and work with them.”
Benjamin Stauffer - 8th grader at Lake Center Christian School
What is your favorite part about attending your school? My favorite part is probably the relationships. You know a lot more people than the ones in your grade, and it’s on a level you can’t get in public schools. Also you begin to see teachers as friends and not just educators.
How do the teachers at your school help you excel? You connect with them in a different way. They see you as something more than a student and will give up their time for you, even in little ways.
What are three things you love about your school? The extracurricular activities give you chances to excel outside of academics and connect to more people. The relationships are great, and if you do extracurricular activities, they will be even better. The biblical worldview helps by giving good direction, which leads to good decisions later in life.
What advice do you have for younger students who want to excel as you have? Never say something is too hard; keep studying and it will come around. Also respect authority and recognize that teachers are people too.
What are your plans for after graduation? I will always love sports and try for them, but if that doesn’t work, I will have academics to look to. Math majors, sports medicine, and even law school seem interesting to me. I will have to make some big decisions, but I know the turnout will be good.
Medina Christian Academy - Heather Petek
It can be difficult to imagine a real-world use for the lessons learned in a math classroom. However, that is just what Heather Petek hopes to teach her students at Medina Christian Academy. “I try to do a lot of hands-on activities that make math come alive instead of it just being on a piece of paper,” she says.
Educating fifth grade students in math, history and bible, Petek strives to anchor each topic in reality. Providing a context for the lesson, Petek says, helps merge subjects—like her history and bible classes. “I try to bring in pictures, and they do a lot of projects in history so that instead of them just reading about it, they can experience and understand why things happened.”
Expanding a lesson off of the pages of a textbook is a vital part of the education process for Petek. “I always tell [my students to] put [themselves] in the situation and figure out why the things are happening,” she says. This larger lesson about life is one Petek is continuing in her math class, with a little help from her fellow teachers. “This year, I’ve been trying to focus on finances,” she says. “As a group in the middle school, we started out with a ticket system where they can save tickets and then pay for a reward at the end.”
Complete with bills to pay, student loans, car payments and a savings account, Petek’s program helps students face the reality of finances. “I really think it’s important that kids know the concept of money.”
Petek’s colleagues have been supportive and helpful when it comes to these unique approaches to education. “When you come up with an idea like that, even though it’s really big and will be a lot of work, they’re really supportive.”
Isabella Tibbs - 8th grader at Medina Christian Academy
What do you like about your school? My favorite part of MCA has to be that I am allowed to worship God out loud and learn about God’s world from a biblical perspective. I love how we have chapel every Wednesday.
What subject is your favorite? My favorite subject is math because I have always been good at it. I also think it is really fun.
How do the teachers at your school help you excel? Teachers at MCA help all the students excel in their studies and are truly interested in our lives. They take the time to not only teach us our subjects, but take an interest in us as people. They encourage us in whatever we love. For me that would be dance—I even got to choreograph and do my own dance at our Christmas play! If we do not understand something, they will take their time and make sure we understand it.
What does it take to be the best student you can be? There are three things to being the best student that you can be. You have to be willing to learn new things, ask questions, and always have a positive attitude with a smile on your face.
What are your plans for after graduation? After graduation I would love to attend a good college and get a degree in nursing. My dream is to become a NICU nurse.