THIS MONTH'S WINNER: Katha Merucci – St. Thomas


Tell us about your background and why you decided to be a teacher. 

I’m a native of Scottsdale. I went to Northern Arizona University and took a class on teaching. I just found that it was something I was good at. 

When I was a kid, I didn’t even like school. It was hard for me and looking back I wonder if I may have had a learning disability. I was just never really good at it. But as a result of not liking school and not being able to learn things quickly, I had to come up with tricks. And I think that ties into the way I teach.  

Talk about your teaching style. 

The way I teach is untraditional in a way. I’ll use singing, dancing, rhymes, all kinds of methods. But I always felt like I needed to teach that way. I wanted to use the creativity that had helped me, to teach lessons to my kids. It’s a strategy, if you make learning fun, kids will love learning! 

What is it about 4th graders that you love? 

I had always wanted to teach fourth graders. They’re still so little, that’s important to remember. They are just eight and nine years old in the fourth grade, but they’re also getting to a place where they’re old enough to do anything. I could spend a class teaching them how to write a paragraph, but I could also have them write a five-paragraph essay too. They’re at a point where they’re still children who love their teacher, but they’re also starting to work on things that older kids do!  

How do you try and make subjects come alive for the students? 

I’m the mom who takes my two children places and always makes them take pictures. So, I’ll use those pictures in the classroom. If we go to Flagstaff, here’s a picture of us at Mount Humphreys. Or here we are at the courthouse in Prescott. It shows them that these are real places. 

One thing I also do is try to bring guest speakers in any time I can. We had a couple gentlemen from the military last year who visited during a lesson on the flag and they taught the kids how to fold it properly. Sandy Brondello, the coach of the Phoenix Mercury, came in and brought the Olympic medals with her to show the kids! Sarah Smith, who works for the President, came by. She plans trips for the President by organizing everything weeks in advance, and she talked to the kids about what it was like to fly on Air Force One. 

When these people come in and speak, I always tell the kids to remember that Ms. Smith or Ms. Brondello were in the fourth grade once too. I have the speakers talk about what being in the fourth grade was like for them. It’s a great way to show the students that they have a pretty cool future ahead of them. I tell my kids, dream big, it can happen!