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Veteran Sumner teacher awarded Teacher of the Year accolade

From even a short conversation with Sumner-Danbury Elementary School third grade teacher Patricia Colinco, her passion for helping her students succeed is obvious. This drive has earned Ms. Colinco the Claremont Unified School District’s 2017 Teacher of the Year accolade.

“I was very honored to receive this award, and it was also very humbling,” Ms. Colinco said. “I work with amazing people, and both of my children went through the Claremont schools, so I know the caliber of teachers out there.”

As is tradition for the Teacher of the Year award, Ms. Colinco’s colleagues lured her to the meeting using a complex ruse.

“A longtime attendance clerk was supposedly getting an award,” Ms. Colinco said. “I arranged a get-together for her after the school board meeting. I got her flowers, and was cutting up brownies for her before I found out.”

The dedication Ms. Colinco showed to her colleague is amplified in her interactions with her students. While Ms. Colinco was originally a nursing major at California State Long Beach, she discovered her passion for working with children when she took a job in the campus daycare.

“I would go home and tell my roommates about working with young kids. They looked at me and told me, ‘I think you’re meant to be a teacher,’” she said.

After graduating from Cal State Long Beach, Ms. Colinco went on to earn a multiple subject teaching credential from Cal Poly, Pomona and then returned to Long Beach to complete a masters in curriculum and instruction.

She loves helping her students make connections between subjects and concepts and with events in their lives.

“I love the connections that they make, whether in literature or when they learn a new concept in social science, and they get an ‘aha’ moment,” she said. “They can make connections that are thoroughly amazing. I just like to find the way to help them get there. That’s my passion—to figure out how to help everyone learn.”

She emphasized that her third graders are capable of far more complex thought than people might assume.

“At the third grade, their higher-level thinking is so much greater than you might think,” she said.

Ms. Colinco remarked that the kids were recently reading Charlotte’s Web, and were able to make really deep connections with the literature and their own lives. The students’ passion for learning and excitement about school makes them a pleasure to teach, she said.

“They’re still quite motivated to be here. They want to learn,” she said. “I enjoy that they’re still so excited to be at school.”

Ms. Colinco’s incredible passion for her students particularly shines through when she tells one of her favorite stories from her time as a teacher at Sumner.

“There was a grandparent, who was the primary caregiver for the child who was quite ill at the time. I knew they needed help, so I got permission to help drive the child to school,” she said. “I wanted her to know that I wanted to be there for her, and she gave me the longest, most grateful hug I have ever received.”

One of the more unique facets of Ms. Colinco’s third grade classes, which she says her former students often mention when they visit her, is that she incorporates plays into her curriculum.

“I like to do plays and I try very, very hard to see what the students are interested in in terms of characters,” she said. “When we did a play recently, we did the play four times so that we could have all the kids who wanted to be a certain character be that character.”

For Ms. Colinco, one of the more challenging aspects to teaching is balancing the formality of the classroom and preparation for standardized tests while ensuring that students remain excited about learning.

“Balancing assessments and rigor with helping the kids stay passionate about learning and excited about learning” can be a challenge, she said. “They need to have that rigor, but they also have to enjoy it and be motivated to learn.”

Overall, Ms. Colinco believes that her duty as a teacher is to prepare her students to succeed not only academically but also in other aspects of their lives.

“I feel like the kids know that I care for them and that I hold a high expectation for behavior because I want them to succeed in all facets of life—not just academically but also socially and emotionally,” she said.

Ms. Colinco’s colleagues praise her for her dedication to her profession.

“She treats our students as if they are her own,” said Sumner principal Kristin Robinson. “Her students are happy to come to school and they love to learn because of her.”

Ms. Robinson also attested to Ms. Colinco’s constant support for her colleagues.

“She’s one of the most caring people on our staff,” Ms. Robinson said. “She celebrates all of those around her, so it’s great to celebrate her for once.”

—Marc Rod

[Editor’s note: Marc Rod is a sophomore at Pomona College, majoring international relations]