Buehrle Academy’s Teacher of the Year Says Success Starts with Being a Good Listener
Buehrle Academy’s Teacher of the Year, Jessica Siewert, says being chosen was an incredibly humbling experience.
“It’s inspiring, and it’s a great honor,” Siewert said. “I’ve been with Buehrle Academy for five years, and it was an unexpected validation of my commitment to my students as a teacher.”
Siewert, who graduated from Immaculata University in 2009, teaches 4th and 5th graders at Buehrle Academy’s program for elementary students – Futures Academy. Futures Academy offers as intensive, therapeutic day school environment for younger students who require additional behavioral and emotional support as part of their school day. She said she doesn’t have a special technique or approach to teaching; she credits her ability to be a good listener to help her connect with her students.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know the grade or type of school I wanted to teach at,” Siewert said passionately. “I’ve always had a social conscience, and with the children we teach, you really have to be a good listener. I try to engage them on a personal level – not going outside the boundaries of the teacher-student relationship, of course – but you have to make them feel as though you can relate to them – taking an interest in what they do and what interests them and who they are as a person. Remember, many of our students come from homes where they really struggle, and it’s important for them to know they have someone they can talk to.”
Buehrle Academy serves students in grades 4-12 who have been referred to Camelot Education or removed from their home campus due to significant disciplinary violations. We provide enhanced behavioral tools and strategies to help students make decisions different from the ones that led them to their suspension or expulsion. We also provide instruction to support academic remediation to get them back on track for promotion and graduation. With these new behavioral tools, strategies, and a stronger academic foundation, Buehrle Academy then transitions students back to their home school.
Executive Director, Matthew Wiltrout, said in addition to being an excellent listener, Siewert is extremely flexible in managing her classroom and guiding her students. “She’s extremely creative, and as the 4th and 5th-grade teacher, she teaches all subjects. She’s adept at handling all kinds of situations and builds an excellent rapport with her students. We serve young, vulnerable kids, so it takes a special person to be able to do this every day. She’s a special person.”
Buehrle Academy began its partnership with the School District of Lancaster as a middle and high school but expanded in 2016 to include supports for elementary students, leveraging Camelot Education’s Elementary Early Intervention program that focuses on therapeutic behavior supports through positive reinforcement, differentiated classroom instruction, social-emotional skills building, and crisis prevention and intervention. Within this positive environment, young students learn the skills they need to cope with the trauma they’ve encountered in their lives and focus on learning.
“Teachers that work with students the way we do understand that negative behaviors can begin at an early age,” Siewert said. “The bullying, or fighting, or whatever they might be doing is a cry for help. If we can recognize these behaviors earlier, we can teach students the necessary coping skills before negative behaviors become their norm. Then, we’ll see gradual changes in overall communities. Camelot uses a specialized coping skills program, and this is what we model our Futures program after.”
Siewert said she measures success in her students by their improved behavior and positive changes in their emotional attitude.
“Some students, when they arrive here, might start out thoroughly disrespectful. Gradually, they come to realize that we’re here to help them,” she said. “They begin to understand that if they want to become successful, they have to improve their behavior. That takes a lot of one-on-one interaction. When they start to see we’re sincere about helping them, that’s the moment when positive change begins. I had one student who, when he arrived at Buehrle, said that at his home school he could tell what kind of day he was going to have by the mood of his teacher. What he learned from us was a different approach to that perspective; that his day wasn’t contingent on the teacher’s mood, but his own perspective, his own emotions, and how he approached the day. Just because someone else is in a bad mood doesn’t mean that you have to feed into that. He learned he is in control of his emotional state of mind. That’s what we offer to our students.”