By Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
From a young age, Aimee Frank played “school” with her neighborhood pals and dreamed of becoming a teacher. Victoria Monk and Jessica Gajewski followed similar visions. As teenagers, the trio enrolled in Grand Canyon University’s College of Education, advancing from practicum to resident teaching to student-teaching. Increasingly, they prepared engaging lesson plans, executed the nuances of class management and crafted data-driven assessments.
As members of the 2018 winter commencement class conferred on Friday by the Dean of the COE, Dr. Kimberly LaPrade, they have met the requirements to launch their teaching careers. Monk seeks to emulate Dr. Meredith Critchfield, the GCU associate professor who taught her to be a teacher, while Gajewski strives to be like the fun-loving teacher she remembers for staying after school to play on the playground with her students.
Here is a closer look at all three exceptional COE graduates:
Hometown: Yucca Valley, Calif.
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education
Quote from Critchfield: “Aimee is smart and receptive to feedback. She constantly strives to be the best teacher she can be and leaves a positive impression wherever she goes. Aimee took part in an optional reading-advocacy project with first grade students in a local Title 1 school in order to hone her skills as a teacher of reading and to make a difference in the lives of students who needed it.’’
Background: Graduated in 3.5 years because of credits gained from high-scoring Advanced Placement exams
Student-teaching placement: First grade at Acacia Elementary School in Washington Elementary School District
Philosophy expressed: “I have always loved school and I always excelled in school.’’
Approach: “As a student-teacher, I used strategies of my mentor teacher since the students were comfortable with them. Also, my mentor teacher had really good procedures already set in place, so I was able use the same ones. To gain attention, I say 'class, class' and they respond 'yes, yes' while putting their hands on their heads.’’
Favorite lineup procedure: “My hands are hanging by my side. I am standing straight and tall. My eyes are staring right ahead. I am ready for the hall.’’
Did you know: Served as a Resident Assistant for two years; worked for Discover GCU
Next step: Signed an 18-month contract with Washington School District to serve as a long-term substitute at Acacia in spring 2019 (while her mentor teacher is on maternity leave) and to teach her own class in fall 2019.
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.
Quote from Critchfield: “Victoria is one of the brightest, most curious students I’ve taught in a long time. She is receptive to feedback, she’s honest, and she holds herself to high standards in every encounter and in every situation. She is a top-notch student-teacher who makes a positive impact on her students’ lives. She intends to pursue graduate-level education and will no doubt thrive in her research and scholarship.’’
Background: Graduated in 3 1/2 years and earned two degrees because of accelerated home schooling in high school and dual-enrollment courses at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Mesa Community College and GCU.
Student-teaching placement: Second grade class at Archway Arete Great Hearts Academy, a K-5 charter school in Gilbert that emphasizes classic liberal arts education, including Singapore Math, Core Knowledge History and Geography.
Philosophy expressed: “I learned from Dr. Critchfield that I want to be someone who has very high standards; I always felt like in her class that she had high expectations of us and we had to rise to those. She taught us to have those high expectations for our students as well.’’
Graduation reflection: “I thought about how much I have grown academically, in my writing ability and in the ways of thinking about problems and how to solve them. I am very happy that I pushed myself to get the most out of my classes and also with my confidence in doing things like teaching, particularly classroom management.’’
Family matters: "My mom, Valerie, and dad, David, have supported me and given me great advice. For the amazing benefit of being home-schooled, I am immensely grateful to them. My grandparents, Leland and Sharon, live near GCU, so I lived with them while attending the University. I saved money, and my grandma has an open fridge policy – if you can find it, you can eat it.’’
Did you know: Victoria plans to celebrate graduation by “sleeping a lot.’’
Next step: Victoria will begin her career in January as an assistant teacher in the same second grade classroom at Archway Arete Great Hearts Academy where she served as a student-teacher.
Hometown: Queensland, Australia
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with an Emphasis in Mathematics and Bachelor of Science in Psychology
Quote from Professor Katy Long: “Not only is she an exceptional student and teacher, but she also contributed to the University through her dedication and play with the women's basketball team. In the classroom, Jess is a phenomenal teacher and knows how to effectively engage all students. Her attention to detail and work ethic make her stand out from other students.’’
Background: Four-year starter on the women’s basketball team, career average was 12.4 points per game.
Student-teaching placement: Second grade English Language Learners at Granada West in the Alhambra Elementary School District
Favorite moments with students: “It was awesome that they wanted to tell you everything. At the end of the semester, I would go to another classroom to observe and they would ask my mentor teacher, ‘Where’s Miss G? When is Miss G coming back?' It kind of touches your heart that you know they miss you.’’
Approach: “My second grade teacher, Mrs. Simmonds, told me that I am a perfectionist, so that means I have to give 100 percent at everything I do. If that means sacrificing something, I will do it. I think that helped me. I want to make a difference in kids’ lives.’’
Graduation reflection: “It was a long journey but definitely worth it. I am so excited it is all coming to an end; it is time for the next step in my life. It was an incredible opportunity for me to experience school in another country. I’ve met amazing people here that I am definitely going to miss, but hopefully they will all come visit me. I’m definitely going to come back and visit the different parts of America to see my friends.’’
Did you know: Spent five years at GCU because of double major and redshirting for basketball her first semester as a freshman, which was spring semester because of the opposite academic calendar in Australia. Despite her late start, she was able to make friends thanks to Tess Parks, her roommate. Parks became Gajewski’s best friend and introduced her to freshmen from her residence hall floor whose friendships continue today. Parks and her parents attended Gajewski’s graduation.
Next step: Returning to Australia next week with plans to substitute while working toward gaining teaching licensure in Australia.
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].