Meet 5 young, inspired teachers influencing local youth after graduating from UMSL’s College of Education
Trace the etymology of the verb “to teach” to its Old English form “tæcan,” meaning “to show, declare, warn, persuade,” and it immediately becomes clear – there’s more to teaching than imparting specific skill sets.
University of Missouri–St. Louis alumni Ana Barrios, Kaylan Holloway, Samantha Maxvill, Chinara Meeks and Michael Zitzer all shape their students’ knowledge and understanding of the world. They guide students and challenge them. They encourage and support them. They show students the possibility their futures hold.
Only five of the more than 3,000 alumni to earn degrees and certificates from the College of Education since 2012, Barrios, Holloway, Maxvill, Meeks and Zitzer are among the many who stay in the St. Louis region.
They teach across a wide variety of age groups, subject areas and districts, but they all have a shared goal – inspiring students to think critically, act kindly and believe in their potential.
Kaylan Holloway, MEd secondary education 2016
Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, history
Holloway knows his Central Visual and Performing Arts High School students need him for more than just a history lesson.
“Sometimes I’m a chef, giving a hungry student a sandwich,” Holloway says. “Sometimes I’m a father figure. Sometimes it’s 11 p.m., and a student calls because he’s about to make a stupid decision and just needs someone to talk to.”
Holloway grew up in north St. Louis and attended Saint Louis Public Schools. He’s familiar with some of the struggles his students face, which is why he requested Teach for America place him in SLPS while he earned his certification and master’s degree at UMSL.
His approach to history focuses on a culturally relevant and responsive curriculum.
“My students should be able to pick up a textbook and see the beauty of people that look like them instead of 10 pages of just slavery,” Holloway says.
He embraces the opportunity his subject area offers, blending history lessons with current social justice, political and economic topics.
“We challenge policies,” Holloway says. “We critique the constitution and different laws. I don’t take sides, but it’s my job to facilitate those discussions.”
At CVPA, Holloway started Kings of Distinction, a male leadership program, after noticing a certain population of boys that seemed lost, serving suspensions and not making the honor roll. He’s since seen them hold each other accountable to show up to class, do their homework and stay out of trouble.
Holloway was the 2017 St. Louis Public Schools Teacher of the Year and received a Fox 2 News Tools for Teachers Award.
Michael Zitzer, MEd secondary education 2014, MEd educational administration 2016
Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School, eighth-grade math
Zitzer’s math class isn’t about right and wrong answers – it’s about the journey to a solution.
“If you figure out the problem in one try, that day was kind of a waste for you because your brain wasn’t extended,” Zitzer says. “The kid that screws up five times, but eventually gets there, has had the most important day.”
Zitzer implements inquiry-based learning, so that his eighth-grade students at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School discover concepts instead of being given steps.
It’s an approach he honed during the last six years teaching math at Hazelwood East Middle School, where Teach for America assigned him while he completed his certification at UMSL and earned two master’s degrees. This year, he switched districts to expand his teaching experience.
While at Hazelwood, Zitzer inspired his students’ critical thinking and confidence – and not only in math.
“I understood that I taught black children, who needed their voices heard, who needed to know that they were important and that the things they were learning in math class could translate to action in their community,” he says.
Zitzer’s approach, shared with other teachers, helped MAP test scores jump 34 percent in the district. He was named 2017 district Teacher of the Year. But Zitzer says the success belongs to the students.
“No one has more persistence and grit than kids growing up facing adversity every day,” he says. “I’m so proud of those kids for what they accomplished for themselves.”
Ana Barrios, MEd secondary education 2012, MEd candidate educational administration
Gateway STEM High School, algebra, honors pre-calculus and AP calculus
Barrios challenges the stereotype of who can pursue math, not only as a woman, but also as a daughter of immigrant parents from Guatemala and El Salvador.
“The images we get of mathematicians, scientists and engineers are of old white men,” Barrios says. “I want to impact those systems and biases that really influence whether or not a student pursues STEM.”
Barrios came to St. Louis through Teach for America and earned her certification at UMSL, later completing a master’s degree. She’s returned to campus for a second master’s in educational administration.
Barrios has taught at Gateway STEM High School for eight years, recently assuming the role of math department head.
One of her goals is to address the gender gap between honors pre-calculus, which currently has an even gender split, and AP calculus, where only two of 14 students are girls this year.
“We’re going to be thinking about who we’re recommending for honors math,” she says.
In partnership with Vashon High School, Barrios has brought the study-abroad Show Me Costa Rica Project to Gateway. For many of her students, it’s the first time they’ve traveled outside the country, been on a plane or even seen the ocean.
“It opens their eyes,” she says. “They come back understanding that there’s more to life than what they know here.”
Chinara Meeks, BSEd elementary and special education 2017
KIPP Wisdom Academy, third grade
A drive-by shooting that resulted in the death of Meek’s youngest son inspired her to do two things– continue her education and teach in an inner-city school in St. Louis.
“Education has always been something that’s helped me overcome things, and I want to do that for other kids,” Meeks says. “Because the truth is, these terrible things happen a lot in our city, and kids still have to come to school and perform.”
Freshly graduated from UMSL, Meeks teaches third-grade math at KIPP Wisdom Academy, a charter school in south city.
“It’s better to reach them early,” says Meeks, who also just loves the elementary age group.
It’s only been a few months, but she’s already making a difference.
“I have conversations, like ‘Look, life’s hard. I understand that. I’m here for you, and we can work together,’” Meeks says of supporting kids through tough circumstances.
Alongside the standard lessons on multiplication and division, she also teaches character education – a schoolwide initiative.
“We have to teach our scholars how to be great people in society,” Meeks says. “Learning to never give up, to be happy about working hard.”
In every classroom hang seven guiding principles: zest, grit, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence and curiosity. Her scholars can tell you what each means.
“I’m always exhausted when I leave here,” Meeks says. “But outside of being a parent, I’ve never done more rewarding work in my life.”
Samantha Maxvill, BSEd elementary and special education 2017
Fort Zumwalt Mid Rivers Elementary School, kindergarten
Crayon posters, number charts, an ABC rug and a little library in alphabetized buckets are only the start to all there is to look at and learn from in Maxvill’s kindergarten classroom.
“I wanted it be colorful, warm and inviting,” says Maxvill, who teaches at Fort Zumwalt Mid Rivers Elementary School. “For some kindergartners, this is their first classroom setting if they haven’t gone to preschool before. Many don’t read or write yet.”
She teaches them letters, numbers, shapes and colors – the foundation for everything to come. Kindergarten is often the first time the 5- and 6-year-olds learn alongside other students as well.
“Probably 80 percent of kindergarten is teaching them to be social,” says Maxvill, whose teaching style prioritizes positivity and encouragement. “I have to teach them to be good people and build that character. At 5 and 6, they can do a lot more than people think. You have to hold them accountable and put the responsibility on them.”
It’s Maxvill’s first teaching job after graduating from UMSL this spring, and she couldn’t feel any more blessed to be doing what she loves.
“I always knew I wanted to teach the little ones. I remember my kindergarten teacher, who still comes to mind immediately. I want to be able to have that influence on another young child.”
This story was originally published in the fall 2017 issue of UMSL Magazine. Have a story idea for UMSL Magazine? Email email@example.com.
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