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Leist: Address needs of the whole child

The biggest lesson Stephanie Leist has learned as a teacher is to address the child’s personal needs before their academic needs in order to have the student grow as a person as well as a scholar.

The lead teacher at Bovina Elementary School has been nominated for Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce Teacher of the Year.

As lead teacher Leist is without a classroom of her own and spends much of her time working with teachers. She often attends conferences and takes the teaching methods she learns to the faculty of the school. The educators work together to address student needs and to capitalize on each other’s strengths.

“I work closely with my fellow educators to look at the different data that help us to better our student goals, as well as school-wide goals,” Leist said.

Students set up their own personal and academic goals with the Leader in Me program and create steps to reach those goals and chart their growth. Leist said the students’ high expectations really motivate her to do her best at all times. It one of her favorite things about being an educator.

“The children make me better by their high standards,” she said.

Leist said it is important to highlight student successes along the way, even when they are small, to let them know they are noticeably progressing. It is both rewarding for the students and teacher, she said.

“In my experience, my most moving educational experiences have been through encouraging students and showing them the improvements they make toward reaching their goals,” she said. “When students are aware of their own learning and progress, they are more successful academically and emotionally.”

Leist also knows that changes have to be made in the classroom based on what the students need. Once, to make the math lesson on area more accessible for her students, Leist stopped her initial approach mid-lesson and transformed the lesson into a real-world, hands-on activity by taping the perimeter of floor tiles and finding the area of the squares. By working with her students to find the best method, she helped the children better understand a word problem that originally had them stumped.

“We worked our way back to the word problem and solved it by breaking it apart and visualizing what the question was asking. We used what was learned during the hands on activities and applied it to the handout,” she said. “They used manipulatives, discovery learning and peer work to solve their area problems.”

By using real world situations, she said students find it easier to remember what they learned. Not only did the students master that particular word problem, but they also found the area of pictures on the walls and of rooms in house plans.

“Also, we measured the walls in the bathrooms to figure out the area of what needed to be painted. After this, we practiced multiplying decimals by figuring the cost of the paint supplies and the tax rate,” Leist said.

Leist attended Hinds Community College and earned two bachelor’s degrees in accounting and elementary education from Mississippi College. She said she always had a desire to be an educator, but she chose to major in business before coming back around to the idea of teaching.

“I immediately went back to elementary ed.,” Leist said. “I think I always knew. There was such a peace when I went with it.”

She started her career as a substitute teacher for both the Vicksburg Warren School District and Porters Chapel Academy for two years. Then Leist spent one year as a fifth grade science and social studies teacher at Culkin Elementary before moving to Sherman Avenue Elementary, where she taught second and third grade for nine years. Leist has now been at Bovina for nine years, and she taught second and third grade before she became lead teacher.

“I teach because all children need to be nurtured and motivated,” she said.

Leist is a member of the Lighthouse Team at Bovina, the Mississippi Professional Education Association and the children’s committee at Trinity Baptist Church. Twenty-one teachers in Warren County were nominated for teacher of the year. The Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce has selected a panel of educators to interview each school’s chosen teacher and will choose one elementary and one secondary teacher of the year on Feb. 15. Both teachers will receive $1,000. Today’s story is the 21st in a series of articles on each teacher up for the honor of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce’s Teacher of the Year.