Last updateTue, 24 Nov 2015 12am



Alachua’s teachers of the year

Teachers_of_Year_IMG_3336Alachua’s teachers of the year were recognized by the Alachua City Commission Monday night.  Michele Faulk of Santa Fe High School, Jennifer Barns of Mebane Middle School, Kathryn Rickets-Pyle of Alachua Elementary and Kathryn Lehtola of Irby Elementary received plaques honoring their selection as 2012 Teacher of the Year for their respective schools.

ALACHUA – At Alachua Elementary, Katheryn Ricketts-Pyle isn’t afraid of acting goofy to get the lesson across to her third and fourth graders. She keeps granola bars in her classroom in case the children need a snack, and her class motto to keep behavior positive is “Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.”

After teaching for four years, she has been awarded Alachua Elementary Teacher of the Year. But she is just one of four teachers that are being honored in the city of Alachua for outstanding performance with the children in the community.

Coach and Athletic Director Michele Faulk at Santa Fe High School, Jennifer Barns at Mebane Middle School and Kathryn Lehtola at Irby Elementary also won the award for Teacher of the Year.

“Honestly, I feel like it’s a reward in itself to have this job and to work with these kids every day,” Ricketts-Pyle said.

She moved to the Alachua County area from Polk County, where her mother was her biggest influence. After being in education for 22 years, her mother retired as a school principal. It was through her mother that she learned how a school stays successful, she said.

Ricketts-Pyle earned a Bachelor of Elementary Education from the University of Florida, and was fortunate to be offered the job at Alachua Elementary during her internship at the school.  Since third grade, she said she always knew that teaching was the right place for her.

Now, she works with her kids to ensure that they all go through her class with confidence, knowing that they can succeed.

“We have a lot of hats,” Ricketts-Pyle said. “We’re nurses. We’re counselors. We’re friends.”

At Irby Elementary, Kathryn Lehtola was voted by her peers to be Teacher of the Year for the school. She currently teaches first grade after teaching kindergarten for 30 years. She’s been with Irby Elementary “since the door opened,” she said.

Most of her childhood friends went off to join the Peace Corps, but Lehtola –remembering JFK’s famous speech about what an individual can do for his or her country – decided to stay stateside and help the children.

“It’s our job to give them everything so that they can go on to be the best they can be,” she said.

Lehtola is the Technology Chair for the school, is a member of the Science and Math Committee and is the Chairman on the Student Advisory Committee.

Times have changed, she said, and feels that technology education has become an important aspect of a student’s education. Most students are not started in computer classes until later on in their education career, but Lehtola feels that young children pick up technology easier.

“They’re fearless at this age,” she said.

Jennifer Barnes, Teacher of the Year at Mebane Middle School, never thought she was going to teach. But after taking on a substitute job, she fell in love with middle school and the children.

“I make it a point to get to know all of my students,” she said.

It’s important for them to have someone to connect with when they are this age, she said.

Barnes has a Bachelors degree in Criminology. But after deciding to teach, she earned certifications in language arts and science for grades sixth through eighth. Currently, she teaches grades sixth and seventh. Since she started teaching five years ago, she has taught all three grades at the middle school level.

Barnes makes it a point to attend her students’ extracurricular activities. She asks students for their schedule of softball games, football games and band performances. She still has students that have moved on to high school return and ask for her to attend their current games.

Santa Fe High School coach Michele Faulk is inspired to instill confidence in her high school students.

Since her elementary school physical education teacher, Dolphus Peppers, made P.E. exciting, Faulk has always wanted to go into teaching. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and Health Sciences from the University of Florida, she worked six years in Interlachen before returning to Santa Fe High, where she did her internship.

“The day that I get into my car and feel like I’m coming to work,” Faulk said, “I’m going to hand in my keys.”

Her job has been an adventure, she said. She labeled Santa Fe High School a little slice of heaven for the teachers. The children here have respect and manners, she said. Plus, the parents tend to be incredibly involved in their child’s education.

Faulk said she was honored and humbled to be named Teacher of the Year. In addition to teaching P.E., Faulk is the Interact Club advisor, Athletic Director, Head Volleyball Coach and mother of a Santa Fe High School senior. She has taught for 19 years at the school.

“It’s flown by,” she said.