Kimberly Stanga Awarded Teacher of the Year

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Gabby Laurente

Kimberly Stanga se sienta con su estudiante Alexis Cárdenas (12) para ayudarlo con su trabajo escolar. Stanga esta encargada del Departamento de Educación Especial en el campus y recientemente ganó la Maestra del Año por sus logros bajo su cargo.

Nikki Iyer, Staff Writer

Kimberly Stanga, Special Education Department Chair, has won Teacher of the Year for 2020.

Teacher of the Year is awarded to a teacher who shows exemplary commitment to their students’ learning. Each year teachers across the district cast ballots to nominate five colleagues for the award. If there is not a majority it goes to a run off between the top two vote getters.

Stanga teaches grades 9-12 in English, world history, workability (where she helps students find jobs), and a social skills class. As  Department Chair of Special Education, she supports eight other teachers in her department. 

During her 4th period class, Stanga heard her name announced over the P.A. system by former principal, Jennifer Smalley, naming her as the winner.

“The kids jumped up and were clapping and cheering, and it was so sweet,” said Stanga.

The other nominees were Kelly Hambrick, Cambria Graff, Danielle Serio, and John Baker.

“It was very close for all nominees and we had to go to run-off,” said Bill Kaiser who now serves as a CUEA representative and counted ballots with other CUEA reps.

“It’s an honor to receive this award, especially working with such a talented staff of teachers at this site. I think all the teachers here deserve the award. It’s truly an honor,” said Stanga.

Dedicated to her students’ growth, not only do Stanga’s students’ learn from her teaching, she also appreciates her students for what they teach her.

“[I am] always learning from them. They teach me some of the most valuable lessons in understanding and kindness and empathy and how the brain works,” said Stanga.

The main reason Stanga became a teacher was to help students overcome judgement and create empathy for others, as Stanga herself was born with a congenital birth defect having no left forearm or hand. 

During her highschool experience, she would wear hooded sweatshirts in order to hide her difference.

So much of who I am as a teacher today is because I had to experience judgement from others, due to the fact that I am ‘different”

— Stanga

“So much of who I am as a teacher today is because I had to experience judgement from others, due to the fact that I am ‘different’,” said Stanga. 

Her condition has allowed her to receive a stronger, more personal connection with her students, making it easier to help them in their academic and personal journey. Her classroom is a safe place for many students, and an area for everyone to be their true selves.

“My drive each day is to change students’ lives for the better by creating a classroom environment that welcomes all students… [that] embraces diversity and ensures they feel safe, can take risks, are valued as human beings, and are looked at nonjudgmentally,” said Stanga.

As a kid, Stanga always had to adapt to different ways around situations. For instance, simple tasks such as tying shoes or braiding hair can be big challenges without two hands. Of course, the tasks may cause anxiety and frustration at first, but with encouraging parents and an accepting family, Stanga never gave up.

“When I was little, my parents never allowed me to use the excuse “I can’t”. They always made me try. They expected me to find another way and were very supportive in helping to teach me that “other way” in order for me to be successful,” said Stanga. “I don’t really look at it as a disability because I’ve never known any different.”

Stanga abides by the idea that one’s first try may not work out, but with help and dedication, there is always a way to make it work. She mentions that learning to do things in unique ways has rewarded her with so many lessons and abilities, which she hopes to pass on to students. 

Not only is Stanga a teacher, but she is also a mother of two daughters. “I need to be a strong role model for my kids so they see it is okay to be different,” said Stanga.

Recently, Stanga purchased an electric prosthetic arm that uses sensor nodes to read her muscle movement and what she is thinking to react in response. With many new benefits, the prosthetic has impacted both Stanga and her kids, and given her an opportunity to utilize two arms.

“My daughters now can hold on to two hands,” said Stanga.

Stanga’s kids are very accepting of their mom’s difference, and even refer to the prosthetic as “mommy’s helper.” Instead of seeing the prosthetic in a negative way, they look towards it as a tool simply benefiting their mom.

“We are different, and let’s look at it as a positive thing instead of a negative,” said Stanga.

Stanga holds an optimistic outlook on life, as she sees her birth defect as a gift rather than an obstacle. “I chose to look at my uniqueness as a gift and that gift has given me the power of empathy, understanding, and the gift of teaching others,” said Stanga.

The ceremony for the award will be taking place on March 12 in the SJHHS theater.