Jessa Oligo knows from personal experience that having a mentor can make a huge difference to a first-year teacher.
“I clearly remember how supported and safe my mentor made me feel that very first, tumultuous year of teaching,” recalls Oligo, who has been an elementary school teacher for 12 years.
The same goes for special education teacher Tammy Powers.
“I had Mary Dove as my mentor when I started in 2000, and she was such an amazing presence in my life during that crazy first year,” said Powers, who has been a special education teacher for 17 years. “She supported me through all of my questions from teaching, to writing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), to working within my department. I am not sure I would’ve made it without her.”
Because their mentors had such a powerful impact on them, it’s no wonder Oligo and Powers are willing to mentor others. They are two of the Cherry Creek School District’s seven S.T.A.R Mentors for the 2017-2018 school year. The others are: Kris Allen, Justin Cole, Ben Naccarato, Jared Ortiz-Gray and Marie Ullrich. All seven were honored by the Cherry Creek Schools Board of Education during the board’s regular meeting on Sept. 12.
“The S.T.A.R. Mentor program as implemented in Cherry Creek is unlike any other new teacher support program found in Colorado,” said Scot Kaye, president of the Cherry Creek Education Association. “Our new teachers are provided one-on-one support by the absolute best teachers to help them become the role models and quality educators our students deserve.”
Founded in 1994, the S.T.A.R. Mentor program is a partnership between the Cherry Creek Education Association and Cherry Creek Schools. S.T.A.R. stands for Staff Training Assistance and Renewal. Mentors are master teachers with years of classroom experience and proven success with students. They accept a three-year assignment to work with Cherry Creek teachers who are new to the profession or the district, and help them develop effective instructional techniques and classroom management skills.
The S.T.A.R. Mentors shared some thoughts on being part of this powerful program:
• Kris Allen, Elementary S.T.A.R. Mentor, taught at Highline Community Elementary School for 16 years
“The first year of teaching can be very difficult and it is empowering to collaborate with someone in regards to pedagogy and instructional practices when a strong, supportive relationship has been built. Together a mentor and a mentee can have a powerful impact on student opportunity and success in a classroom.”
• Justin Cole, Secondary S.T.A.R. Mentor, 10 years’ experience as a middle school math teacher including eight years at Thunder Ridge Middle School
“From a learning standpoint, this program has been all that I had hoped for and more. I have loved being able to work with teachers and spend my days thinking and talking about how best to support students. I enter this third year knowing that I have grown in my thinking about what it means to be an educator, and I hope that I have provided that same experience to the teachers I have worked with.”
• Ben Naccarato, Elementary S.T.A.R. Mentor, ELA teacher with 19 years of experience
“The reason why I wanted to be a mentor was to facilitate teachers’ growth on their own personal journey within their teaching practice. Mentoring provides all involved with an opportunity to grow and learn within the mentor relationship.”
• Jessa Oligo, Elementary S.T.A.R. Mentor, taught elementary school for 11 years
“To be a part of a first-year teacher’s journey and provide them with resources, collaboration, and a non-evaluative space has been such a rewarding experience. I’m working to be a springboard and help guide my mentees to be reflective of their practice and mediate their thinking as they grow as educators.”
• Jared Ortiz-Gray, Secondary S.T.A.R. Mentor, Language Arts teacher for 15 years, most recently at Horizon Community Middle School
“My desire to become a mentor stems from my belief that all teachers can benefit from non-evaluative coaching, collaboration, and conversation. The first year of teaching is filled with challenges and celebrations, and it is so valuable to have someone by your side as individualized support.”
• Tammy Powers, Special Education S.T.A.R. Mentor, spent 16 years as a special education teacher at Prairie Middle School
“I wanted to be a mentor because I love the field of special education - especially the students - and wanted to share that passion with new teachers.”
• Marie Ullrich, Secondary S.T.A.R. Mentor, 12 years’ experience as a high school English teacher, most recently at Overland High School
“Teaching is a tough job and I wanted to support those who are new to the profession and get them started on a lifelong career of rewards and challenges. Research shows that by proxy, teacher-mentors help students learn and achieve more. Since I certainly miss having students of my own, I take pride in being able to help my teachers' students be successful.”
Congratulations to the 2017-2018 Cherry Creek Schools S.T.A.R. Mentors!