Elk Creek Elementary teacher earns Excellence in Teaching award
Sarah Clayton has devoted her time to helping her students learn
Denny Reyes and Keren Segovia don’t know who Virginia French Allen is or how her contributions to teaching English as a second language have impacted instruction for decades.
What Denny and Keren know is that they love Sarah Clayton’s laugh, her smile and learning to read and speak English at Elk Creek Elementary.
Sarah’s passion for kids, her love of learning and her “can-do attitude” earned her the Virginia French Allen Excellence in Teaching from the Colorado Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (CoTESOL) in November 2019. The award honors a teacher who has excelled in classroom instruction and/or has demonstrated creativity in developing materials or a program of instruction.
Elk Creek Elementary Principal Lisa Pierce says Sarah has done that and more in a mere 18 months of serving as the English Language Development coach.
“Sarah Clayton has high expectations for her students. She believes in their abilities and coaches them to be great students and extraordinary human beings,” Pierce said in her awards speech at the CoTESOL convention. “She is a master teacher and a perpetual learner. She absorbs information like a sponge in order to provide the best education for her students.”
The former first-grade teacher came to the role of English language development coach through a circuitous, and altruistic route.
“I adore first grade. I loved teaching first grade. I could probably have gone back to it,” she explained. But in 2018, she was going to return to the classroom after her maternity leave in December, and she could not ask the students to change their teacher, change their routines, and change the style of instruction mid-year.
“I just didn’t feel like it was fair to the children to have a long-term sub for the first half of the year and then come in the second half,” said Sarah.
As a classroom teacher, her first-grade reading groups were primarily comprised of English language learners, so she opted for a change.
“I just started to develop a passion for teaching English to these children using all my first-grade knowledge of actions and pictures and my broken Spanish to communicate with them. It was mostly through teaching these littles that I grew to love.”
As a whole Garfield Re-2 School District is 26.4% English Language Development students and Elk Creek is just slightly below the District average at 24%. Sarah’s passion and determination have helped Elk Creek Elementary re-invent its support for English language development students.
“Sarah Clayton has been the anchor for the re-development and implementation of the English language program delivery model at Elk Creek Elementary,” said Pierce. “She coaches students and teachers using best practice at all times. She plans (English language) interventions, teaches interventions, and trains others to deliver interventions.”
One of the greatest rewards for Sarah, is seeing her passion for English language development instruction sweep across the school.
“It just kind of ripple effects through the school. I feel like our whole school is on this. They’re just digging a lot deeper and it’s not just teaching a lesson, but they’re learning about like how to discover the language inside the lesson and that benefits all kids,” she explained.
Though she is new to the field, she has electrified the English language instruction at Elk Creek Elementary, and is humbled by the state-wide recognition.
“I had no idea I was going to receive this. I wanted to give it to other people or share it with my whole school, because I’m the point person, but there are a lot of people behind the scenes that have carried me through.”
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