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McConnaughay spotlights everyday hero: Sarah Sheppard, 2017 Kane County Educator of the Year nominee

This week, Senator McConnaughay spotlights Sarah Sheppard, first and second grade teacher at Cambridge Lakes Charter School and nominee for the 2017 Kane County Educator of the Year Award.

Sheppard was nominated for the elementary school category by the staff and parent community at Cambridge Lakes Charter School, where she has worked for five years. Her commitment to building strong relationships with her students and ongoing dedication to professional development have earned her recognition as a top educator.

While in college, she was selected to fulfill her clinical experience at Cambridge Lakes and saw firsthand how the charter school environment differed from the public school processes. Following graduation, she accepted a job offer from Cambridge Lakes and began teaching there that immediate school year.

One unique aspect about the charter school is that she teaches the same group of students for their first and second grade years consecutively, which she says allows her the opportunity to really get to know each student and their families.

“Having the students for two years benefits them academically, socially and emotionally,” said Sheppard. “It gives me time to build a relationship with the entire family, so we can focus on the child as a whole, not just their academic career. And when they show up for their first day of the second grade, they already know me, my expectations and my classroom routine, so we can really just jump right into the academics.”

While the institution teaches common core curriculum, they offer Sheppard and her colleagues a great deal of freedom to try different instruction methods in order to find what works for their classroom. 

“I love the higher education aspect that we push; we constantly challenge students academically to go above and beyond expectations,” said Sheppard. “The collaboration between teachers is phenomenal. We’re always working as a team and relying on each other. We share ideas across grade levels and curriculums to apply to our own class.” 

She is dedicated to providing an individualized learning experience and looks to professional development opportunities for fresh and innovative ideas. She attended a week-long “Math Camp” last summer through the Creative Mathematics Program to learn different ways to teach math to students in second through fourth grade.

She diverges from traditional instruction in her class by including interactive activities and small group work. To accommodate different learning styles, she changes the agenda and routine from day-to-day depending on the lesson plan and how quickly students take to the material. One day, she may teach the content to the entire group, and the next she may break them up into several small groups to more individually discuss the lesson and answer questions. She also makes a point of incorporating as much hands-on group work as possible, and has gone as far as dressing up as elaborate characters and role playing to make the content memorable.

As a young teacher among many talented educators at Cambridge Lakes, Sheppard said she was in disbelief when she received news of her award nomination and felt so honored to read the nomination letters filled out by the community.

“There are so many people that I learn from, and it’s really amazing to be that person for someone else,” said Sheppard. “My job takes a lot of energy, and that energy every day comes from my students’ faces. They tell me stories and I tell them mine—they know everything about me. That’s what keeps my energy coming back, knowing that they deserve the best of me, and they give their best back too.”

The Kane County Regional Office of Education hosted its 42nd Annual Educator of the Year award ceremony on April 28 by honoring 45 outstanding educators nominated as academic leaders by their peers. The award was presented to one educator in each of nine separate categories: classroom preschool teacher; classroom elementary teacher; classroom middle school teacher; classroom high school teacher; school administrator; student support personnel; early career educator; private/parochial; educational service personnel; and one overall top educator of the year.

“In her young teaching career, Sarah has already made such a positive impression on the students and families at Cambridge Lakes Charter School,” said Senator McConnaughay. “She invests a great deal of time and training into her students’ development, and genuinely cares about their success in both academics and in life. I know as she continues to grow as a teacher, she’ll become an even bigger asset.”

Senator McConnaughay is proud to recognize Sheppard for his Educator of the Year nomination and thank her for her ongoing dedication to Cambridge Lakes Charter School.

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