By Pablo Jaime Sainz
When it comes to teaching her students their ABC’s, Kathy Applegate-Norman likes to use the power of laughter as a tool.
“If students feel they’re having fun while learning, they tend to grasp the material much better,” she said.
And laughter is something natural in her second grade students at Willow Elementary School, in San Ysidro, she said.
“Second graders say the goofiest things. They are genuine moments, they are not trying to be funny. They’re just kids,” Applegate-Norman said.
But although the atmosphere in her classroom can be a little bit ‘goofy,’ Applegate-Norman gets serious when it comes to her students’ education.
“They know that there’s time to have fun and there’s time to be disciplined and study hard,” she said.
It is because of her peculiar, but powerful teaching method, that Mrs. Kathy Applegate-Norman was recently chosen as Teacher of the Year at the San Ysidro School District, an honor that she said surprised her.
“Maybe they’re just tired of me,” she said, laughing. “I’m amazed. I didn’t realize it was a great deal being Teacher of the Year.”
The committee that chose her as Teacher of the Year wrote:
“Mrs. Applegate-Norman works effectively with fellow staff members in curriculum improvement. She is always cooperative and harmonious with coworkers. She sees her responsibility as a teacher in relation to the total school program… The entire school community values and appreciates Ms. Kathy Applegate-Norman extraordinary teaching skills and considers her a positive influence on the school climate and environment.”
When Applegate-Norman arrived at Willow Elementary more than 20 years ago, she said she noticed that many of her students came from dis-functional families where domestic violence, drugs and crime was the norm.
She said she felt devastated every time she would come to her classroom and hear terrible stories.
“Children would tell me what was going on at home. They are things that I didn’t even know existed when I was their age,” she said.
Realizing that many of her students didn’t have a positive environment at home, she strived to make her classroom a peaceful, loving place, where children could feel secure and apreciated.
“When they come to me, they have a positive place to be, they have fun,” she said. “They know they’re uncon-ditionaly loved here. They know I’m on their side.”
Lisa Vasquez is a volunteer mother in Applegate-Norman’s classroom who said the teacher has had a positive impact on her son’s education, as well as on the entire family.
“She’s so kind and sweet,” Vasquez said.
The rewards of her hard work at Willow have paid-off, Applegate-Norman said.
“By the end of the school year, I see children have matured and that’s a great blessing,” she said.
Geographically, Willow Elementary is isolated from the rest of San Ysidro: Interstate 5 dissects the community in two.
For years, Willow has been the ‘ugly duckling’ at the San Ysidro School District.
Until a few months, when several changes took place, including the appointment of Ana Gonzalez, a former San Ysidro student, as principal.
This year marks the first time in the district’s history when both the Teacher of the Year and the Classified Employee of the Year are found in the same school: Willow Elementary.
“I feel so proud to show the rest of the district that although Willow is isolated, we have a strong presence in the community,” Gonzalez said.
Administrative clerk Carmen Duran was chosen as Classified Employee of the Year.
Congratulations to both Mrs. Applegate-Norman and Mrs. Duran.