Steamboat Springs In a small, purple-walled classroom in Strawberry Park Elementary School, Diane Yazbeck’s patience fosters breakthroughs.
They don’t always come instantly or easily. Her students have outbursts that are numbed by deep breaths and silence. Still, Yazbeck keeps teaching.
“I love connecting with kids,” the special education teacher said. “I love when you see in their eyes that they are learning.”
On Thursday, the breakthrough was Daniel Keith’s scribing of words containing the letter F.
Fork. Front. Forklift. Daniel wrote the words carefully in pencil. Yazbeck’s smile never was far from the boy’s shoulder. She followed his pencil’s every move.
Recognizing the boy’s progress, the teacher placed a sticker on Daniel’s “Handwriting Without Tears” workbook, a move that instantly spurred the 7-year-old to stand up and dance. He twirled and jumped up and down in the small room. He wanted to do a cartwheel. Learning was fun.
“When she smiles, it makes me smile,” Daniel said about Yazbeck, whom he calls Ms. Hugs.
The boy returned to his seat and turned to the next page of his workbook. It was time to focus again.
“She’s a very good teacher,” Daniel added. “She’s always nice, and she’s never tough on you. That makes her a very special teacher.”
Teacher of the Year
Strawberry Park Principal Celia Dunham said Friday that she had a hard time confining Yazbeck’s accomplishments to a single sheet of paper.
Diane constantly looks for new ways to support her students, Dunham wrote in a letter nominating her for Teacher of the Year.
She wrote that Yazbeck is a mentor and that she balances her professional and personal life. She shows a “special blend of patience and firmness that inspires her students to become all they can be.”
As she reflected Friday on Yazbeck’s seven years at Strawberry Park, Dunham added that the teacher’s work ethic is contagious.
“She has a passion that’s great to be around,” Dunham said. “When you’re with people who are that passionate about their work, it makes you enjoy your own work even more.”
Yazbeck helped design the school’s integrated learning room, a room that echoes with calming music and has colored construction paper soften the harshness of overhead fluorescent lights. She has incorporated yoga as a teaching technique. She has managed the outbursts and agitations that are eventually outweighed by calls to parents informing them that their student has accomplished something exciting, that they have learned something new.
Yazbeck teaches summer school and manages the paraprofessionals who work in Strawberry Park’s special education program. She also is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling.
A committee of Steamboat Springs School Board members, parents and faculty and staff members recognized all of Yazbeck’s accomplishments earlier this week. They recognized her passion and named her the school district’s Teacher of the Year.
“She moved us,” School Board President Brian Kelly said about the interview.
While Daniel calls Yazbeck Ms. Hugs, Denise English Kreger calls the teacher a saint.
Shortly after Yazbeck moved to Steamboat from Clearwater, Fla., she met English Kreger’s 3-year-old son Jack. The boy was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder when he was 18 months old and needed a patient teacher.
“Diane taught me how to teach him because I didn’t know,” English Kreger said Thursday, adding that Yazbeck would spend four to five hours per day helping the boy better communicate.
The boy was sometimes violent and couldn’t be left alone.
Working as a home-based teacher with the Yampa Valley Autism Program, Yazbeck used pictures and later a computer program to help give Jack, now 12, a voice.
“Diane gave me peace of mind just knowing Jack was in the hands of an amazing teacher and person,” English Kreger said. “She taught Jack how to laugh and how to have fun, and looking back, that was a big thing.”
Yazbeck maintains a close relationship with the boy, and he smiled in front of Steamboat Springs Middle School on Friday when the teacher showed him a photo taken of them together several years ago.
It’s relationships like these that keep Yazbeck teaching.
2011-12 Teacher of the Year nominees
Kelaine Sowards, fourth-grade teacher at Soda Creek Elementary School
Years with school: six
What others said: “To her students, she is kind and connected,” Soda Creek Principal Michele Miller wrote in a letter nominating Sowards. “She inspires knowledge in any environment to any type of learner. Not only does she expect students to achieve at their highest potentials, but also provides the encouragement needed to attain these goals. She goes above the curriculum to teach culture and tolerance. Kelaine makes every moment a teachable moment.”
Lisa Lorenz, science teacher at Steamboat Springs Middle School
Years with school: 19
What others said: “Lisa constantly shows a dedication and passion for all students’ educational and social/emotional growth regardless of ability or circumstance,” middle school special education teacher Robyn Albertini wrote in a letter nominating Lorenz. “I have witnessed her tremendous skills as a teacher, and she connects with all students in her unique ways using humor, telling stories and making analogies so that all students understand the material in each lesson.”
Anne Barbier, math teacher at Steamboat Springs High School
Years with school: 11
What others said: “Anne is a consummate professional,” Steamboat Springs High School teacher Cindy Gay wrote in a letter nominating Barbier. “Always taking the high road, even when those around her may not, Anne works diligently toward our school’s vision and mission, always keeping the interests of students in mind. She is positive and forward-thinking, always finding the positive in every situation and working diligently to making ideas become realities.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com