Richelle Lewis’ approach to teaching at American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek Elementary extends beyond curriculums, lesson plans and even the classroom.
Lewis, a third-grade teacher, takes a personal approach to her students’ learning, which includes regularly attending events outside of school, such as their baseball games and baptisms, to show encouragement.
Inside the classroom, she relies on data, goal-setting, individualized learning and student engagement, combined with positive reinforcement, personal examples from her own life and even love for her students to foster an emotional connection.
As a result, Lewis’ students are consistently high-performing and her indelible impact is evident as many of her former students return to visit.
Lewis’ dedication to her students, their high academic achievement and care for their personal well-being are among the reasons for her selection as the Arizona Charter School Association’s 2016 Teacher of the Year.
“She is one of those teachers that just makes kids want to be here everyday,” said Sheila Frame, assistant director of ALA. “Richelle is the one I constantly see high-fiving and hugging students in the hallway.”
Lewis’ teaching is data-driven, and even includes the students in goal setting, who she sits down with weekly to reevaluate their progress in terms they can understand.
But Lewis goes beyond instruction, teaching students the coping skills needed to continue on with their education.
“She helped me because I can’t focus that well because I’m ADHD. So, it’s a little hard for me and she taught me a whole bunch of tricks that helped me focus,” said Joey Cluff, a fourth-grader former student of Lewis. “If you were in her class, you would know how fun and nice and friendly she is. It’s just amazing.”
During class, she’s uses a strategy called kinesthetic learning, which allows students to get out of their seats and actively participate during lessons, whether they’re stomping their feet or waving their hands.
The method makes it easier for students to remember vocabulary words and other concepts.
“If they’re engaged, there are not going to be as many issues. They’re not going to get sidetracked or distracted,” she said. “They know I’m around and paying attention, and I see what they’re doing during assignments.”
When Lewis is moving throughout the classroom, she’s not doing so with the watchful eye of a disciplinarian.
It allows her to see students who are struggling and help them understand the material.
“Kids are kind of hard on themselves. They see one failure and say ‘I can’t do this’,” she said. “I want to be the one to say ‘hey, you made a mistake, let’s learn from it’.”
Addison Griffin, 9, another former student, described how Lewis is always willing to take extra time to help a student understand a concept.
“She’s very generous,” she said. “She’s always there if I need anything. She’s always there to help me.”
Lewis hopes that she can be the spark that kept her students engaged in education for years to come.
“I want to know that I impacted them,” she said.
Meet Our 2016 Charter Award Winners
Academy of Math and Science – Prince is a K-8 charter school serving 420 students in Tucson. This STEM-focused school has high academic rigor for students while providing a well-rounded college-prep education.
Valerie Merrill is the principal at Legacy Traditional School – Gilbert, a K-8 charter school serving 1,200 students in Gilbert. Valerie is an inspirational leader and a quintessential role model for everyone involved with the school.
Betsy Rosenmiller is the finance director at Metropolitan Arts Institute, a charter high school serving 250 students in Phoenix. Although Betsy has a background in business administration, her passion is art.
Richelle Lewis is a third-grade teacher at American Leadership Academy – Queen Creek, a K-6 charter school serving 760 students. Richelle understands and embraces that all students learn differently.