Students highlight hard work, personal relationships for Teacher Appreciation Week

Teachers at The Peak School take a physically distanced photo in fall 2020.
Photo from Ren Bittner

Like most celebrations this year, Teacher Appreciation Week looked a bit different at Summit County schools, and many students felt a new level of appreciation for their teachers’ work to educate them amid a pandemic.

Cameron Kalaf, a senior at Summit High School, said he doesn’t think students understood what teachers were up against at the beginning of the pandemic.

“The way that they’ve learned and the way they’ve been technically taught to teach, it’s always been face to face,” Kalaf said. “And so I think … we didn’t really understand the situation that COVID and online schooling put them through.”

Once the students returned to in-person learning on some days, Kalaf said he and his classmates saw all the extra work their teachers were putting in.

“The students started to appreciate them a lot more when we actually got to see them face to face and saw how much they were doing extra. … And we try to let them know as much as we can,” he said.

Kalaf said he appreciates the personal connections he has made with his teachers and added that he’s particularly grateful to those who have helped the senior class have a successful year.

Jeraldine Zubia Fletes, a sophomore at Snowy Peaks, also emphasized the importance of close relationships with her teachers.

“I feel like they are always rooting for us, even if we’re not in school …” Zubia Fletes said. “They always motivate us. They always inspire us. They always keep us going, even when we don’t feel like it, which is really nice.”

She said the welcoming environment in her school can be credited to its staff.

“I just think it’s really nice that we have a school that people can trust and a lot of really cool people that make us feel welcome,” Zubia Fletes said.

Mia Norden, 10, takes an online piano lesson from her teacher Michelle Roll.
Photo by Claudine Norden

Claudine Norden is the mother of two elementary school students in Summit County. Her oldest daughter, Mia, started fourth grade online through Colorado Connections Academy, an online public school, while her youngest, Maddie, is in second grade at Frisco Elementary School.

Norden said she appreciates how resilient her kids’ teachers have been amid the difficulties of a pandemic and changing leadership, with an interim principal at Frisco Elementary and the search for a new superintendent at Summit School District.

Despite the challenges, she said the teachers “still bring their A-game to their kids every day.”

Norden said the Colorado Connections Academy teachers are creative with how they engage with students and embrace technology. Mia said she has enjoyed transitioning to a fully online education this year to try something different.

“I think that they gave me more challenging stuff, so I was learning more throughout the school year,” Mia said. “I think if I didn’t have my teachers help me through online learning, it would have been a lot different.”

Norden said she’s also grateful for how the school district has kept her youngest safe in an in-person setting with face-to-face learning four days per week.

“They are still teaching our kids,” she said. “It’s not just babysitting our kids, but they’re still academically challenging our kids, finding creative ways to do it, engaging the parents.”

She added that the teachers have done a good job of keeping her kids’ education as normal as possible.

Elsie Robinson, a fifth grade student at Frisco Elementary, said she loves that her teachers are patient and nice.
Photo from Courtney Robinson

Elsie Robinson, a fifth grade student at Frisco Elementary, said she loves that her teachers, Allison Lloyd and Amy Brendel, are patient and nice. She said they have done a good job of keeping her education fun and easy to adapt to through Zoom. ​

Eli Hurwitch is in seventh grade at Snowy Peaks, and he sent emails to all of his teachers telling them how much he appreciates them.

“I appreciate that they’re super kind, and if I’m behind on any work, then I can just ask them if they can help me, and then 100% of the time they’ll say ‘yes,'” he said.

He said he can tell his teachers have been working harder amid the pandemic but still manage to keep his education fun.

Mason Heslin, another seventh grade student at Snowy Peaks, said he’s more appreciative of his teachers amid the pandemic after seeing his mom adapt as a teacher. He said he’s grateful teachers are still encouraging hands-on activities because he doesn’t like staying inside a classroom for too long.

Ren Bittner, a senior at The Peak School, said students and teachers get to know each other better because the school is so small.

“I think we forge a really strong connection with each of them — more than just like a teacher-student relationship,” Bittner said. “It’s a little bit closer than that.”

She said Ben Butler, her math and physics teacher, is the best math teacher she’s ever had, adding that he does an exceptional job of keeping students in the loop amid the pandemic.

“We’ve been super fortunate to have our teachers being super accessible through distance learning and super flexible with all of our scheduling …” she said. “The communication has just been incredible with them. … Some of them gave us their numbers and told us we can call them if we need anything — school related or not — and I think that’s really something important and something to recognize.”

Gavin Benedict is in seventh grade at The Peak School, and he said all of his teachers are nice and understanding. On May 6, he brought in a box of doughnuts to leave in the front office as a way to say “thank you” to his teachers.

“(For) Teacher Appreciation Week, everyone should give something, because the teachers do a lot of things for us and sometimes we take that for granted, and I think we should always appreciate them.”

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