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Growing alongside their students

As educators, Joe Rogers and Candice Gonzales have numerous heartfelt stories about reconnecting with former students and feeling proud to see how much they’ve grown.

“That’s why we do what we do,” Gonzales said.

“Those moments make it all worth it,” Rogers said.

Rogers is an Instructional Coach at Frankfort High School in Frankfort, Kentucky. Gonzales is a multilingual language teacher at Prairie Heights Middle School in Evans, Colorado.

The nature of their busy roles keeps their focus on the present and the future, while not allowing much time for reflection. That’s why those moments with their former students are so rewarding. 

“It’s a small thing to hear a ‘Thank you,’ but it’s so huge for us,” Gonzales said. “It’s a good reminder of how far we’ve all come.”

Because in education, it’s not only the students who grow and evolve. Though they work in schools 1,200 miles apart, Rogers and Gonzales both recognize their similar growth as individuals while being a part of a connected community of passionate educators nationwide. 

Rogers and Gonzales were teachers at their respective schools when they partnered with Gradient Learning and implemented the Summit Learning program. In the seven years since, the positive results have motivated both to become inspiring leaders in their communities.

“As we kept seeing all of these success stories with kids, I really got into the positive change we were making in education and wanted to give back even more,” Rogers said.

‘Everybody is there for the right reasons’

No two days are the same for Rogers, whose instructional coaching duties with the Frankfort Independent School District have him working closely with teachers and students from grades 4-12.

“I love hopping into classrooms and seeing what is needed and how I can best help,” Rogers said. “We know that student engagement is the number one predictor of success so we want to always challenge ourselves to find ways to engage all students.”

This type of leadership role was not what Rogers envisioned when he joined Frankfort High School as a Social Studies teacher in 2016. The St. Louis, Missouri, native had five years of teaching experience at the time, but felt like a reinvigorated first-year teacher when he went through a Summer Training with Summit Learning educators.

“I really got into the positive change we were making in education and wanted to give back even more.”

“I realized pretty early on that I got really excited about going to a training and then coming back and sharing what I know to my colleagues,” Rogers said.

This past summer, Rogers was back at Summer Training as a facilitator who led discussions with educators from across the country.

“I had teachers from Alaska and Oklahoma in my room and we all saw that this whole student work is something very real and important we can all do for our students,” Rogers said. “There’s a real sense of community when we get together. Everybody is there for the right reasons.”

‘This is where I am supposed to be’

Whether it’s a student struggling to learn English or a fellow teacher in need of a pep talk, Gonzales offers similar advice.

“You need to know that it’s all going to be okay,” Gonzales says to them. “Look, you’re going to make mistakes. We all have and we all will. Just do your best, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Candy Gonazales working with students.

Gonzales, who began teaching in 2009, has evolved into a trusted leader in her Prairie Heights Middle School community. But when people ask her about a potential future in administration, she can’t imagine not being involved in the day-to-day work with her students.

“To me, that would take the joy out of who I am because I like watching the kids grow and being right beside them,” Gonzales said. “This is where I am supposed to be.”

Gonzales has found other ways to grow as a leader. Along with teaching English language learners, most of whom recently moved to the United States, Gonazales also runs the after-school and summer school programs.

“It’s so rewarding because I’m able to provide opportunities, such as going to a karate studio or seeing a movie in the theaters, that some had never experienced before,” Gonzales said. “I love being able to have a positive impact on my students’ lives and on their families.” 

In 2019, she was a Summit Learning Fellow and joined a team of teachers and school leaders who helped train new members of the Summit Learning community.

“Being a resource for others was so amazing and really helped show me how connected we all are,” Gonzales said. “I learned we really shouldn’t keep things to ourselves. You have to talk with other educators and see what they’re doing and share your ideas.”

No matter what the future holds, both Rogers and Gonzales plan on continuing to be leaders in their own way because of how much they believe in teaching the whole student.

“There are days that are hard, but it’s worth it because of the impact that connections can have on teachers and on their students,” Rogers said. “We have to continue to push and fight for our kids so they can grow and impact the world. 

“And when they stop back in years later and tell me how they’re doing and all of the exciting things happening in their life, there’s really nothing better than that.” 

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