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Meet the 2018 Edmentum Educator of the Year: Kristen Espina of Moundsville Middle School

Meet the 2018 Edmentum Educator of the Year: Kristen Espina of Moundsville Middle School

At Moundsville Middle School in Moundsville, West Virginia, the hallways are decorated with magical creatures. Trolls, werewolves, mer-people, and dragons are just some of the colorful cutouts that cover the walls of the middle school’s math department, each one representing a student’s success in a math skill. They’re all part of the school’s “Mythical Warrior” program, a clever and creative incentive system that Edmentum’s Educator of the Year Award Winner, Kristen Espina, developed to help engage her students in math.

Just last month, Kristen Espina, a 6th and 7th grade math teacher at Moundsville Middle School, was named Edmentum’s Educator of the Year for 2018. She was recognized for her creative and effective use of technology in her classroom to encourage her students to strive for success but also for her dedication to helping them learn. As the winner of Edmentum’s third-ever Educator of the Year Award, Kristen has received a $100 gift card, and she will be attending the ISTE Conference & Expo in Chicago, Illinois, June 24–27 as an official guest of Edmentum, where she will also be sharing her experiences using Edmentum’s individualized learning solution, Exact Path, at our booth.

Recently, we had the chance to chat with Kristen about how she keeps her students motivated, what she does to be the best teacher she can be, and what matters most to her as a teacher when it comes to her students. But first, we were curious, what made her want to become an educator?

“I was in pharmacy school, and I realized that I'd spent every summer since I'd graduated from high school working with children at a summer camp,” she said. “And I just realized that I liked what I was doing in grad school, but it didn't feel like home to me. So, I had to take a step back and reevaluate. I realized that working with kids is what I was meant to do.”

With a strong background in chemistry under her belt, Kristen found that it was easy to add math into the equation when she went back to school to become a teacher.

“I've always been really good at math,” she said. “I've always loved math, and I want the kids that I teach to love math the way I love math.”

Since she began her teaching career three years ago, Kristen has been working hard to share her love of math with her students and finding ways to keep them engaged in her class. Her students compete in various projects and activities throughout the year, like Robot Races in Automation and Robotics class, where students can invite their classmates from around school to watch them race their builds, or Elf Races in December, where students decorate an elf character they then move from station to station, competing in short multiplication challenges to advance. This year, when Kristen’s school began using Exact Path, she saw a new opportunity to keep her students engaged with the “Mythical Warriors” incentive program, utilizing Exact Path data to better support her students’ needs.

“In our school, our kids take two math classes a day,” she explained. “They have a math core class, which is where you cover your core content, and then they also have a math skills class, which is where we focus more on skills that maybe weren't developed enough in elementary school. We incorporate Exact Path twice a week in skills class.”

Following each administration of the Exact Path adaptive diagnostic assessment, Kristen is able to use data to find out where her students are struggling and then plan lessons to help support their unique needs. She also uses individual student data to have open and honest conversations with her students about their growth and skill level, finding that her students are more invested when they feel involved in their learning. Her students are motivated to track their Exact Path Trophies, which represent mastered skills, and then extend those accomplishments into recognition through the “Mythical Warriors” program, where they get to color in a new mythical creature to hang in the hallway every time they earn a certain number of trophies. Each creature is “monitored” by a teacher, so when students earn a new creature, they must go that teacher to “capture” it.

As a result of her “Mythical Warriors” program, Kristen not only was able to successfully engage her students, but she also helped create buy-in with her fellow teachers, who all came together to support students working in Exact Path. 

Outside of her classroom, Kristen works tirelessly to find ways to continue to improve her teaching skills for her students, and she also engages with students in several extracurricular activities and after-school clubs.

In Kristen’s nomination for the Educator of the Year Award, Amy Ritz, the head of the math department at Moundsville Middle School, described some things that Kristen does to go above and beyond to be the best teacher she can be.

“Kristen has completed over 60 graduate hours in the field of technology integration in the classroom, as well as additional specialized training for automation and robotics,” wrote Amy. “She has used these skills to engage students with technology and ensure they receive the skills necessary for the future. Kristen also regularly participates in after-school book studies focusing on school improvement, heads the school Drug-Free club, and leads the Spirit club for the school.”

As any middle school teacher will tell you, it’s not always easy to keep students engaged and motivated as they grow, transition, and discover who they want to be. Kristen is dedicated when it comes to keeping her students engaged in their learning, and her main priority is being there for them.

“The most important thing for me with my students is that they know they have an adult they can trust,” Kristen said. “When they walk into the building every day, I want them to know they can come into my room; it's a safe place for them. We're going to learn math in there—we're going to do math work, but more importantly, they're safe in here.”

Please join us as we extend our heartiest congratulations to Edmentum’s Educator of the Year, Kristen Espina! We know that she’ll continue to find creative and fun ways to engage her students and encourage them to love math! Thanks for your incredible work, Kristen!

Interested in learning more about Edmentum’s Educator of the Year Award and this year’s Inspiring Educator honorees? Take a look at this blog post announcing all of this year’s winners, and check back for more winner profiles coming soon!