Mesquite Elementary teacher named Rodel finalist

A teacher at Mesquite Elementary School was recently named a Rodel Exemplary Teacher finalist.

Fourth- through sixth-grade math teacher Jenny Kaste was one of three Yuma instructors to make it to the finalist round of Rodel Foundation of Arizona’s teacher recognition program. Twenty-four finalists were selected from a group of 42 semifinalists from across the state. On Nov. 29, a total of 15 instructors will receive the title of 2016 Rodel Exemplary Teacher, including one teacher from Yuma County.

Kaste was nominated for the honor by her principal, Connie Jerpseth. Rodel Foundation of Arizona considers nominations for the initiative based upon an instructor’s student achievement data, effective classroom practices, and potential to be a mentor to future teachers. The program also focuses on recognizing teachers from high needs schools with a free and reduced meal rate of 70 percent or higher.

“It’s a huge honor,” said Kaste about being selected. “The people who were nominated, I know all of them personally and have been through classes with them and worked with them, so to be in that category as equals to those teachers makes me feel very proud, because they’re all excellent candidates.”

If Kaste is named a Rodel Exemplary Teacher, her responsibilities would include mentoring three student teachers over the next two years. With 11 years of experience in education within the Crane Elementary School District, Kaste said that she’s excited about the potential opportunity to pass on what she knows to other aspiring teachers.

“I think the number one thing we can do in the Crane district is get, train and retain great teachers. Research shows it, there’s no arguing, that’s what makes education successful. To be a part of that, because I’ve worked in so many different Crane schools, this is my community, all of them are my students and to bring them good teachers and help be a part of that program, it means a lot to me.”

Kaste explained that she knew she wanted to be a teacher from a very young age.

“I had a definitive moment when I was sure of it. I was nine or 10 and I worked at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, I was a trained volunteer. We took these animals out and people would come up and touch them and pet them and we would teach them about these animals. And I very distinctly remember doing that and having this one child just light up. I walked home and I told my parents, this is it, this is what I was doing.”

Kaste has served as a gifted coordinator, an English Language Learner coach and tutor, a play director, a mentor teacher, a team leader, a curriculum committee member, a math leadership team member, a Parent Teacher Organization liaison, and a student council adviser.

At the local level, the Rodel Exemplary Teacher program is part of a new partnership formed between the Yuma County School Superintendent’s Office and the Arizona Community Foundation of Yuma.

“I’m really appreciative that Rodel has expanded this program to Yuma,” said Kaste. “When I started there were just so many new teachers coming in and now it’s just not happening as much. I realize how important it is to give teachers the support and training that they need.”

Since 2004, 167 Rodel Exemplary Teachers have been named from around Arizona and more than 700 Rodel Promising Student Teachers have been mentored.