When we look back at our time in the school system, there are so many different experiences, memories, and emotions to remember. Some memories stand out vividly while others have faded, with just the bare details coming to mind. While friends and activities have dimmed with time, there is always a teacher that leaves an indelible mark. That teacher cared about you, believed in you, trusted you, pushed you, and inspired you, when perhaps no one else did. The students of Lyons are fortunate to have such standout teachers instructing them and helping them grow into people that will help make the world a better place. While Lyons is lucky to have several educators of this caliber, two educators are honored each this year. Pam Browning was chosen as Teacher of the Year in the elementary division, and Allison Zema winning in the middle/high school division.
Pamela Browning, Lyons Elementary TEACHER of the YEAR 2021
Pam Browning was selected by our community as the Lyons Elementary School Teacher of the Year! Pam has served as our Gifted and Talented teacher for the past 5 ½ years. Pam’s vision for Gifted learning has enhanced our program, added affective needs support, increased advanced math opportunities, and developed engaging lesson extensions for our Gifted Students. Her ability to support teachers, parents, and students has been incredible. Pam is retiring this year. We wish Pam well as she transitions from our school, and look forward to seeing her in the community!
Pam Browning graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne College (now Lenoir-Rhyne University), in Hickory, North Carolina, in 1992. Browning graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in elementary education. When asked if she always knew what she wanted to do, Browning laughed and said “I was one of those people, when I went to college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a veterinarian, or a music teacher.” Browning confessed that teaching elementary school had not necessarily been a “burning desire” from childhood. Browning believes that while her mother teaching had an influence on her (she had been trained in college as an educator), it was really the “love of learning” that drove her to be an elementary instructor. “I didn’t always love school, but I loved learning new things all the time, figuring out how to do things, and then helping people figure them out was something that I always enjoyed. I think that was why I ended up gravitating toward something that let me use my love of learning.”
While Browning had decided that her future lay in education, she did not yet know that it was elementary education that would really inspire her. During her internship Browning was tasked with creating a thematic unit (a unit is where all of the language arts, history and social studies should be able to tie back into one another) for a fifth grade class. As fifth graders don’t have too much of a frame of reference when it comes to the last 100 years of history, Browning linked the Bob Dylan song “The Times They Are A Changin’” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” It was the authentic learning experience of the kids, and knowing that Browning had helped them learn to see and contextualize current events that solidified her desire to be involved in teaching elementary aged children.
Following graduation Browning found it difficult to “get started”, but after those first few years teaching, she found her pace. “For me, it is all about the craft. Setting a tone and a pace in your class room where your students really become excited about the learning and then you’re doing it together. There is a mutual respect for the process [of learning] which makes the classroom much more of a community; where people are excited about learning and each individual contributes to how the learning works and what they can give back and add to our collective knowledge and growth.” Browning knew that this model provided limitless potential and capitalized on it, making her the amazing elementary educator she has become.
“I always loved my elementary school teachers” Browning recalls. “I had fabulous middle and high school teachers, but there is something about that age [elementary school age] and stage of development, the influence that teacher has on you isn’t just looking back and saying ‘that was a good teacher’, but rather ‘that teacher loved me’.”
One of her favorite moments teaching in Lyons was the fifth grade Shakespeare festival. “I had never been a drama teacher before. It was chaotic, but it was so much fun. It has become a rite of passage for the fifth graders.”
While Browning has loved helping mold the young people of Lyons, after 29 years of teaching she has decided to retire this year. “It’s time to get back to those things we did when our schedules were a little more flexible, when we had more time to do the volunteering gigs we like, and more travel.” Browning looks forward to continuing her community involvement as the new administration person for Meals on Wheels under Lyons Emergency & Assistance Fund (LEAF) while carrying on with her position on the board of the Friends of the Lyons Library. Furthermore, she is thrilled to spend more time on her hobbies of gardening, hiking, and playing the upright bass in her trio. She has a sneaking suspicion that she will once again find herself in front of the youngsters in town. “I probably wont be able to stay away for long” Browning laughed.
Allison Zema, Lyons Middle/Senior High School TEACHER of the YEAR 2021
Allison Zema has done a tremendous job meeting the challenges of this year. She made her drama class a class that every student wants to go to each day — a hard feat in the time of online learning. Her passion and ability to teach the underlying concepts has propelled student interest in a new avenue.
As a fine arts drama and choir teacher Allison has had to get VERY creative so that both she and her students can thrive in the current environment. Allison has worked hard to make sure that choir is equally engaging. She has had students learn and practice songs at school, creating a new classroom outside by constantly bringing her mobile keyboard and speakers outside. Then at home, students sing and submit the songs they are learning in a video format. Over the course of numerous hours, she painstakingly put the student videos together for our winter concert, linked here. Even though we could not have a concert in person, Allison was committed to having this concert and maintaining the standards of her choral program, because performing for people is one of the highlights of choir.
For drama, she had students write and perform their own plays, collaborating in break out rooms and then presenting on video while students are both virtual and in person. She also had students prepare monologues and present those on video. Allison did such a great job breaking the assignment into pieces and giving students 3-4 opportunities to present and get feedback from herself and peers before they gave a final presentation. It was awesome to hear and see students practicing something they have never done before.
Resilience and courage are often a theme of Allison’s classes and in order to alleviate some of the fears about performing alone, she designed her curriculum to include how to perform alone, at home. This is a very different experience than singing in a group with accompaniment, so teaching the students what to do and how to perform well in that new environment essential for the success of the program and the proof is shown in the video. Students carry this confidence outside of the classroom and into other challenges they are facing this year.
Allison Zema was chosen from among her colleagues as the Lyons Middle and High School Teacher of the Year. Zema is the choir and drama teacher for grades four the six.
Zema matriculated from University of California, Irvine with her undergraduate degree in Business, but it was a profound experience in choral music that gave her life direction. She had been performing as a singer in choirs while at UC, but had not genuinely considered a career in music education. Zema had her “aha” moment when she was in undergraduate school as a business major. “I was singing in the choirs and my mentor at the time gave me the opportunity to conduct a piece of music in front of our choir. Afterwards he invited me to attend his graduate seminars for choral music education. The fact that he [her mentor] really believed in me, and that moment of being in front of the choir was picture perfect.”
Unfortunately, there was no music education department at her university. Zema’s mentor knew the program at CU Boulder and suggested that she pursue a masters there as they have a strong department of music education. After earning her masters Zema was faced with the decision of moving back home to California or staying in Colorado; the decision was easier than she thought. “While earning my degree I just really fell in love with the choral atmosphere here in Colorado. It’s so collaborative and the environment is really supportive.”
Even though Zema had found her purpose in life, she had not truly envisioned herself teaching middle or high school. “I had originally planned to become a university professor but most of the doctorate choral programs prefer that candidates have some public education experience first.” In order to continue on her path to professorship, Zema started teaching adolescents. and ended up falling in love with the experience. “They’re weird, they’re willing to try anything, and I’m kind of a weird person in terms of the things I ask singers to do, and middle and high school students really respond to that… It is so interesting to see the kids develop [from fourth to sixth grade]. It’s an invaluable experience.” Zema is still open to the possibility of moving on to a teaching university “but the more I teach in public education, the more I fall in love with it. I love the way that the students care about me so deeply.”
While the past year has been difficult with the lockdowns and school closings, Zema has found the humor in her situation and has brought that levity into her “teaching from home” style. “I equate teaching online to being a standup comedian performing in front of your stuffed animals. When I tell a joke, I don’t get the giggles and noise that would normally follow, but I can see on their cameras that they are laughing, and I comment on it. But it has been weird to not have that feedback.”
Zema touts that one of her greatest achievements in choral work was taking a women’s choir to an international festival in Bratislava Slovakia in 2014, and placing first in their category. “It was my first time taking a choir on an international trip as their director, and I was so proud of the women and myself. I think it is really cool when you can be proud of yourself.”
When asked what she loves most about choir (singing/directing/teaching) Zema responded sagaciously, “The best part of choir is that you get to feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself.”
Whilst she had originally foreseen herself teaching in a large city school like the ones she had attended in California, she feels that her coming to Lyons had been nothing short of serendipitous. “I love it here. When I took the job, I was worried about how I would feel teaching at such a small school. But after seeing what a strong community and program Lyons has, and the amount of love and support that this community has shown me, it has been so humbling, and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to be here.”
St Vrain School District / and St. Vrain School Foundation DISTRICT AWARDS
NEIL SHUPE won the District Teacher of the Year Award. He has taught a range of subjects from biology to advanced placement chemistry, and currently advanced manufacturing. He stated in the virtual speech at the Awards ceremony that he discovered early that he loved working with kids, “This is what I’m good at. This is what I enjoy.” He is now in his 13th year teaching.
Shupe teaches at Advanced Manufacturing Academy, Career Development Center. It has a strong connections to Front Range Community College’s Center of Integrated Manufacturing and industry leaders. This program allows students to develop industry skills, earn college credit, accrue certifications, and gain real-word experience in highly technical manufacturing careers – machining/engineering, electronics, welding, and optics.
===Other finalists for “Areas 1-4”: Nathan Wilcox (Thunder Valley), Jim Doman, (Longmont), Krystyna Farquhar (Longm Estates), Leigh Emberg (Mead)
===Lyons Elementary •winner: Pamela Browning • also nominated: Donna Evans • Sara Pike
=== Lyons Middle Senior High • winner: Allison Zema *also nominated: Karen Gregg • Carolyn Smith