From stuffed animals to first-graders
Kelly Bina always wanted to be a teacher.”When I was in fifth grade, my parents gave me a corner of the basement, and I decorated it just like a regular classroom,” Bina said. “I taught many stuffed animals and dolls to read and write.” Now Bina has regular, live students. And her first-graders at Highland Elementary School in Rifle seem to appreciate her even more than the stuffed animals did.The L.S. Wood Charitable Trust honored Bina as Garfield Re-2 School District’s Elementary Teacher of the Year. The award comes with a $2,000 cash prize for Bina and a $2,000 grant for the school.”I’m ecstatic that she won, but to be perfectly frank, I’m not surprised,” said Highland principal Howard Disney. “For all she does and the hundreds of students she’s impacted, she deserved this.”
Bina has taught in Re-2 for 16 years. She was a student teacher and spent her first year at Esma Lewis Elementary School in Rifle, then worked at Wamsley Elementary School, also in Rifle.”At first I didn’t want to teach first grade,” Bina said. “It’s a really important year. The kids learn to read and write in first grade. I didn’t want the responsibility.”But after a year of teaching kindergarten, Bina decided she was ready for the challenge and she hasn’t been willing to give up her first-grade post since.”This is a great age. I love the smaller kids,” Bina said. “They will just say anything, come right out with it.”Bina said her students always make her laugh. Sometimes she has to hold her laughter back because she knows her students don’t always mean to be funny.”They’ll use a word sometimes. They’ll use it perfectly, and you’ll wonder where they got it,” Bina said.
Bina said students come into her classroom with a wide range of backgrounds, and her job is to get them all on a level playing field.She reads to them and helps them find the right books for their levels. She has them write something every day.”Some kids come in here fluent readers. Others don’t speak English,” Bina said. “It’s a real challenge.”Bina said she wants to have a more personal relationship with her students. She tells them stories about her life, sends them postcards at home so they will have mail, and brings them souvenirs when she travels with her husband and two kids.When she went to San Diego with her family this year, she roamed the beach in search of seashells for her students. She filled 25 plastic bags with beach sand and shells and packed them in her suitcase.
Part of the application process for the Teacher of the Year award required former students to write letters of recommendation. Bina got to read them.”They were all so sweet. They made me cry,” Bina said.One of her students, who is in fourth grade this year, remembered releasing 100 balloons on the 100th day of school. Each balloon went out into the world with a note attached asking anyone who finds it to write.”One year they went as far away as Michigan and Indiana. They went east,” Bina said “This year they went west. Someone called from Utah. A boy remembered that. It’s a good geography lesson.”Bina said some students mentioned in their letters the books she read to them, or always being able to get a hug from her, or the way she made them feel special. “That really meant a lot to me,” Bina said. “You ask some adults who their first-grade teacher was and they won’t remember. I want them to remember. Not the math sheet they did, but how they were treated and how I made them feel.”
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