GC: Top Educators love their kids

By Jessica Rodrigo

jrodrigo@vicad.com

Education is one of the most important stepping stones in a person's life. During the journey from daycare to kindergarten on up to that long walk across the stage marking the transition from student to graduate, there are the teachers who leave that ever-lasting mark. Whether it be a nudge in the direction of a chosen career path or a helpful hand when things get hard, educators are essential in building the character that we have now.

Here are the educators nominated by students, parents, friends and faculty of the Golden Crescent.

Karen Frazier

After receiving her bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of Houston in 1976, Karen Frazier went on to teach in the Aldine school district for eight years.

She enjoyed an 18-year hiatus from teaching in public schools to homeschool her children and then returned to teaching. She is in her ninth year at Our Lady of Victory in Victoria. She teaches fifth-grade math and fifth- and sixth-grade social studies.

"Every year is different. Every class has a different personality, and you get to know the kids and the family. You get to watch them grow," she said. "It really is unique."

In a perpetual attempt to prepare for the following school year, Frazier, 57, said the wheels in her head are always in motion. As soon as her classroom is available for decorating, she can be found setting things up or writing the curriculum. Who better to know what Frazier offers her students than the teacher in the neighboring classroom, Mary Sumbera, who nominated her as one of the Top 5 educators in the Golden Crescent.

Family: Husband, David, married 28 years. Four children, Davy is married, has a daughter, Ashton, and lives in Austin; Rebecca lives in Houston; Frank lives in Victoria; and Pamela attends law school in Portland, Ore.

Why/how did you decide to become an educator?

According to my mother, I came home from my first day of school and announced I was going to be a teacher, and then proceeded to teach my dolls all I had learned. I can't remember ever not wanting to teach.

When you were in grade school, what was your favorite subject and why?

Math was always my favorite subject, with history and science close behind. I've always enjoyed problem solving and learning how and why things happened.

What is your most memorable experience as an educator?

Each year brings memorable experiences. Like most teachers, I can go on for hours about the children who have touched my heart. Seeing them grow in mind, body and spirit, watching them become the people they were created to be gives new purpose to my life each and every day.

What characteristics do you think make a great educator/mentor?

Compassion for children has to be the motivation of teachers. Then there is the deep desire, even compelling need, to reach the child, each one, to give them the desire and skills to learn. Learning is a life-long endeavor and we as educators must help our students learn how to learn.

Pamela Edge

All the way down, at the end of the long hall of lockers and classrooms of Howell Middle School is the classroom of Pamela Edge.

She teaches English Language Arts and math to eighth-grade students. The AVID class - Advancement Via Individual Determination - is a special class where Edge serves as a personal cheerleader to her students. She explained that each student in the class must apply and interview for the class, and once they are accepted, they can begin their journey toward higher education.

"I teach them higher-level thinking skills and prepare them for the future," said 45-year-old Edge. "Life is better when you're constantly learning."

In 22 years of teaching, she has been the recipient of various awards through the Victoria Independent School District and other teaching affiliations. She was nominated by Sister M. Frances Cabrini Janvier, of the Incarnate Word Convent.

Family: Husband, David Edge, married for 23 years. Three children, Megan, 20, attends Texas State University, majoring in communication disorders; Jenica, 17, senior at Victoria East High School; and Matthew, 14, freshman at Victoria East High School.

Why/how did you decide to become an educator?

I decided to teach when I was in the first grade. My teacher had me write on the chalkboard and I thought: I'm pretty good at writing with chalk, so I should teach. From that point, I taught dolls, dogs and cats. I even remember sitting in a pasture teaching cows about science. I'm sure they thought it was a moooving experience. My mom taught kindergarten, so I spent time studying her teaching techniques. It was this experience that taught me that teaching involved more than the ability to write with chalk. It involved the inner drive to see students' potential and help them set goals to achieve it. An educator is each student's personal cheerleader.

When you were in grade school, what was your favorite subject and why?

As an elementary student, I would say I had two favorite subjects: recess and lunch. But secretly, I loved reading biographies. I enjoyed reading about the lives of our America's founding fathers and mothers. In my mind, I worked with these historical figures, fought for civil rights and waged wars for our nation's independence. Reading made the past breathe.

What is your most memorable experience as an educator?

Last year, I had the honor of teaching a group of students selected for Advancement Via Individual Determination. As the AVID teacher, I increased the rigor and expectations of the students in the academic middle. The goal was to prepare them for college. What an incredible blessing for me. By the end of the year, two of my students were selected to receive the Justin Cox College Scholarship amounting to $4,000 each. In addition, 10 of my AVID students were accepted into a rigorous early college center at Liberty Academy. My students could potentially leave high school with an associate's degree. However, what is truly at the top of my list is watching my former students walk across the graduation stage toward a new life with a high school education.

What characteristics do you think make a great educator/mentor?

Educators are passionate, inspiring, and lifelong learners. They focus on the can's, instead of the cannot's. A strength of our students is the educational passion a teacher brings to the classroom. When an inner fire consumes a teacher, students are swept up in it and a fire is kindled within them.

Lisa Fleming

Between breakfast, play, coloring, reading and more play, Lisa Fleming's job sounds like a piece of cake that almost anyone would take a bite of.

This 45-year-old Goliad Head Start teacher said her classroom, a combination of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, is a nothing but fun.

"I enjoy being with the kids, having fun with them - we have fun all day long - they don't know they're learning, but they are."

During the months of summer vacation, Fleming, who is very active at First Baptist Church in Goliad where her husband is a pastor, spends time with her family and teaching Sunday school and participating in activities hosted by the church.

The parent of one of Fleming's students, Maria Perez, wrote the nomination and included several pleasant things about her son's experience with Head Start.

Family: Husband, Jay, married for 25 years. Three children, oldest daughter, Bethany, 23, lives and teaches in San Antonio; Jamie, 19, attends Victoria College and works at Subway in Goliad; and Evan, 16, is a junior at Goliad High School.

Why/how did you decide to become an educator?

I decided to become a teacher, so I could make a difference in the lives of children. The cliché goes that children are our future. But children really are our future. So, I see teaching as a way to be a positive part of impacting children's lives and affecting the future.

When you were in grade school, what was your favorite subject and why?

My favorite subject in grade school was history/social studies because I liked learning about the past and how it has impacted the present.

What is your most memorable experience as an educator?

My most memorable experience as an educator has been watching my students learn while they're having fun. I teach the youngest students, so I'm teaching them colors and letters and shapes, among other things such as social skills. So, we play games and jump around and do a lot of fun stuff in the process of them learning these things.

What characteristics do you think make a great educator/mentor?

The characteristics that make a great educator would be love for the work you are doing and love for children. Other characteristics that make a great educator would be compassion, patience and perseverance.

Sonya Holesovsky

Though she holds the title of director of the Freshman Academy with Calhoun High School, Sonya Holesovsky, she wears many hats.

Before she was a director of the Freshman Academy, she served as one of two choir directors at Calhoun over the course of several decades.

"I am still very active in music. I help to mentor other choir directors in the area," she said of her first love.

A former student, Meg Gohlke, nominated Holeosvsky for her "genuine concern" for all the students under her wing.

Holesovsky, 62, is very in-tune with what her students are doing in school. Anyone visiting her classroom can see that she is dedicated to the well-being and encouragement of her students. There are stuffed animals on her desk, couches for comfort and textbooks on various subjects line the walls. Her students may joke that she is "the judge," equipped with a plastic gavel on her desk, but she is just serious about her students learning life and social skills and planning for the future.

"My students always ask if there is a sophomore academy that they can go to."

Family: Husband, James, married 37 years. Two children, Brandon and Blake, both graduates of Texas A&M University at College Station. Brandon, 28, is employed by Emerson Process Management in Houston. Blake, 26, is employed by the New York Times, About.com, and lives in Manhattan, N.Y.

Why/how did you decide to become an educator?

That was easy. I knew from the time that I was a very young child that I wanted to be a music teacher. I started by learning to play the accordion when it was bigger than I was. From there, the joy that music brought to my life was something that I wanted to share with others. Once I set my feet upon that path, I never thought about doing anything else with my life!

When you were in grade school, what was your favorite subject and why?

Music. It was always music. Although, I did involve myself in many other activities, I couldn't wait for my music class throughout my school years. By the time I reached high school, I was "full on," really put myself into the choir, and became the first TMEA all-state choir member from South San Antonio High School. The all-state experience changed my life forever. It's an experience like none other. As an all-state choir member, you have the opportunity to perform under the direction of some of the best conductors in the world, with other students who love music like you do, from all over the state of Texas. I encourage every high school music student to participate in the TMEA all-state audition process.

What is your most memorable experience as an educator?

Wow. That's a tough one. I have so many wonderful memories. I guess it would be one of my students who worked so hard to make the Texas all-state choir. At the final audition, when the results were announced, her name was not called. She started to cry, and I went and put my arms around her and we both cried. It just broke my heart. You want your students to have a life changing experience like the all-state choir. An experience that truly can change the direction of their life. Especially when they work so hard and you, as their teacher, see how much it means to them. One of the most important things to me was to have my students come away with a love of making music that is life-long. That was always one of my biggest goals for my students! Music really is a life-long enrichment.

What characteristics do you think make a great educator/mentor?

I think young people want direction and structure. I was always a demanding leader, constantly raising the bar for my students. In my life, the times that I struggled were those times when I was not sure what was expected of me. I always tried to make my expectations clear to my students. I did my best to be fair and consistent in those expectations and I hope that my students remember me that way. I do believe that my students always knew how much I cared about them, their feelings, failures and successes. Once they know that you really care, you have won their hearts and minds, and teaching becomes a daily joy. I can't think of a single day in the last 40 years, when I didn't want to get up, go to work, and teach my students.

Beverly Frater and Silvia Franklin-Simmons

Beverly Frater, 60, is a part of the Grand Central Station program with Howell Middle School, as well as a teacher with the Homebound program with the Victoria Independent School District. In the Grand Central Station program, she partners with inclusion and special education students who need extra help with homework or classes.

"It's amazing ... To see when that light bulb goes off. You can just see the difference that you make in their lives," she said.

She started working with children in a church group and dedicated 25 years in the Victoria County Probation Department. She has been with VISD since 2004, having worked at Rowland, Crain and now, Howell Middle school and the Homebound program.

Frater works with Silvia Franklin-Simmons, another instructor with the Homebound program.

Franklin-Simmons, 57, has worked with VISD for 18 years and provides instruction for children with health impairments through the Homebound program in a home environment. She works with various students for two-hour sessions throughout the day traveling from house to house within the district. Because case loads change during the school year, she can have between 20 to 45 students under her wing.

"This was our first year to work as a team," said Simmons about the district-made partnership. "But she has been excellent to work with. It has been a very rewarding experience."

Together the pair worked with Thomas Walentovic, an eighth-grade student at Howell Middle School, who nominated them.

Frater's Family: Husband, the Rev. Ronnie James Frater, married 18 years; daughter, Tonika Seanay Zufford, 39; grandchildren, Roycenten, 18; Nicholas, 17; and Emmery, 3.

Franklin-Simmons' Family: Husband, Willie Simmons; Four children, Kenneth Wells, 45; Cherly Wells, 43; Rakel Hicks, 32; and Willord Simmons, 14.

Why/how did you decide to become an educator?

Frater: I have always loved little ones. We had a youth group at church that started me working with kids. I had smaller kids then, too.

Franklin-Simmons: I have always loved and respected books. I enjoy reading and sharing information with others. I consider myself a good listener and communicator.

When you were in grade school, what was your favorite subject and why?

Frater: I can't even remember why, but it was reading and history. I was always so interested in it.

Franklin-Simmons: Reading and writing were my favorite subjects because they allowed me to experience beauty of both facts and fantasy.

What is your most memorable experience as an educator?

Frater: When I started in VISD, I had first grade and then I went to kindergarten. I was in special education, so when my babies get what was being taught to them ... It's just amazing.

Franklin-Simmons: An elementary student once reported to me that another student called me a "Nickel" mispronouncing the "N" word.

What characteristics do you think make a great educator/mentor?

Frater: You have to be a people-person. There has to be a love for people and kids, because kids are people, too... You never know what you're doing or who you're helping, you never know who is watching you, but have to be on your best behavior. You treat people like you want to be treated.

Franklin-Simmons: I think a great educator should constantly seek ways to make learning interesting and informative. A great educator is consistent, firm and fair with all students. A great educator is also highly-motivated, reliable and approachable.