LEMOORE – Ever since Tracy Cassina was in the first grade, all she wanted to do was teach.
And Cassina coincidently teaches the same grade as when she decided she wanted to be a teacher.
Now in her 20th year in teaching – including 18 in the same first-grade room at Meadow Lane Elementary School – Cassina has been named the Lemoore Union Elementary School District’s Teacher of the Year.
For Cassina, teaching first grade has been rewarding because of her own passion for reading. She’s the site administrator for the Accelerated Reader Program, which encourages students to read at their own level. At the end of the year, the program awards prizes such as free books and medals to students based on goals they achieve.
And that ability mostly begins with work done in the first grade. Parts of Cassina’s classroom are decorated with different popular children’s books and stuffed animals from those books including “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “If You Give a Mouse A Cookie."
“There’s such an importance to teaching kids to read so they can go on and read bigger things,” Cassina said.
Cassina enjoys the temperament of first graders as well.
“First graders are amazing,” she said. “They’re excited to be at school every day. For me, I love seeing the growth they make as the year goes on.”
Along with being on different committees, Cassina also helped launch a group made up of teachers who meet each month and share teaching ideas with their coworkers. At the group’s last meeting, Cassina said nearly the entire Meadow Lane teaching staff was present.
As one of Meadow Lane’s senior teachers, Cassina noticed an influx of younger teachers and wanted to help them along the way.
The group is in its second year.
“We have a lot of newer staff,” Cassina said. “There are humps in the year we wanted to help the newer teachers get over.”
Cassina also tutors students in her free time and mentors teachers closing in on the final stages of work on their own teaching credentials.
Dawn Taylor, who was mentored by Cassina, said she is an asset to both new and veteran teachers.
“She was an amazing support system for me as I navigated through my first two years as a new teacher," Taylor said. “She always goes above and beyond for her colleagues and her students (and has) been an inspiring mentor for me to watch and learn from.”
Cassina is looking forward to helping newer teachers more in the future.
She is planning on teaching summer school, but at a different grade to get a feel of what it’s like. That's so she can help teachers she’ll mentor in the future, just like she was mentored when she began.
“I want to be able to have that experience of teaching the upper grades,” Cassina said.
Meadow Lane Principal Rhett Kenney said Cassina believes in two important things – that all students can learn at high levels and students at Meadow Lane are her responsibility.
“(She’s) not afraid to examine her own practice and take steps to improve when she finds room for improvement,” Kenney said. “The students and staff at Meadow Lane are grateful and proud to be represented by such a credit to the teaching profession as Tracy Cassina.”