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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Fort Thomas Students and Educators Honored as Global Leaders

Woodfill teacher Casey Gesenhues and Fort Thomas School Board member Ann Meyer congratulate the youngest recipients of the Global Leader awards.

By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor 

In March and April, Global Leader awards went to four teachers, three counselors, an administrator and two young students. The awards are part of the Fort Thomas Independent Schools Portrait of a Graduate program. Anyone in the community can nominate anyone else who exemplifies the leadership qualities outlined in the program.

Nominees can be awarded for demonstrating the qualities of a Courageous Leader, Creative Problem Solver, Empathetic Collaborator, Curious Critical Thinker or Global Communicator. Often, nominees exemplify more than one of these leadership qualities.

The program over the course of this school year has been successful in identifying and honoring several members of the community.

Teachers model leadership qualities in and out of the classroom

Parents and colleagues nominated teachers for the awards, not only for what they do in the classroom but also for the work they do with students outside of class, partnering with parents and supporting their colleagues and schools.

Moyer music teacher Mary Scaggs honored as a Courageous Leader.

Moyer music teacher Mary Scaggs was nominated as a Courageous Leader by parent Kevin Hagerty who explained that he didn’t know what to expect when his son was chosen to be part of the Kentucky All State Chorus. He knew it involved lots of practice and an opportunity to work with a well-respected conductor.

After seeing the children’s performance and its impact on his son, he called it "magical....Our son is not one of those kids who is chosen first. He is shy...We are so grateful and thankful that he got to experience this." He thanked Scaggs for her work to cultivate his son and the Moyer music program.

Parent Josh Riesenbeck and his daughter congratulate teacher Becky Brady on her Global Leader award.

Brooke and Josh Riesenbeck, parents of four students who go to Fort Thomas schools, nominated first grade teacher Becky Brady, who teaches their daughter at Moyer Elementary. In Brady, they said they have a true education partner for their child and a Courageous Leader.

"As we recently sat with Becky and discussed our daughter’s progress, it was clear to us how much of an educational ally we have in Becky... As we listened to the information that she shared, it was apparent to us that her concerns were genuine, and she was not sitting across from us merely performing a required duty but as a champion of education who truly cares about the progress of each of her students."

They said the teacher is passing these qualities on to all of her students. "We feel that each day Mrs. Brady models to her students the importance of servant leadership and through her example and positive interactions she is creating courageous leaders in her classroom."

Johnson teacher Kim Schnier received a Global Leader award for her work promoting science learning and the National Geographic GeoChallenge.

Johnson teacher Kim Schnier was nominated by Principal Ashley Dikeos. Schnier was instrumental in the school’s extensive participation in the National Geographic GeoChallenge.

"The amount of authentic learning that transpired was unreal. The students used project-based learning, comparative design thinking in order to research and create. Mrs. Schnier’s students reached out to multiple outside agencies in order to get involved in the focus on the impact of single use plastics on the environment... A member of the Newport Aquarium WAVE Foundation came to Johnson to talk to the students and was so impressed that he donated money to help...," Dikeos said.

"The students also reached out to Fort Thomas Coffee for their marketing campaign...and this is just a piece of the entire learning experience. Without her willingness to break out of the comfort zone, this type of learning couldn’t exist, and so we are very grateful for this Courageous Leader, Empathetic Collaborator and Creative Problem Solver."

Art teacher Jennifer Flynn received a Global Leader award. To her left is one of her nominators and colleague at Johnson, Aimee Shadwell.

Also at Johnson, art teacher Jennifer Flynn was nominated by Dikeos and fellow teacher Aimee Shadwell.

Dikeos nominated Flynn as an Empathetic Collaborator. "Jennifer Flynn is the epitome of a collaborator. She’s offered to create things, work through professional learning communities...developing project based learning projects as well as pushing forward with her team on STEAM and culture projects. Johnson Elementary is blessed to have an art teacher that has so much compassion for working with others in order to help others and make processes easier," she said.

"You might think that the art teacher would have very little to do with aspects of the elementary school culture that don’t pertain directly to art instruction. Jennifer, however, proves herself invaluable in almost every aspect of our school," said Shadwell. "Jennifer has a real talent for looking at the big picture, taking multiple perspectives into account...She’s a colleague that I turn to when I want to develop or refine in the classroom. She uses her talents to help other teachers as well as her students."

Counselors support the community and each other

This year was a very hard one for everyone in the Fort Thomas schools and broader community. The pain is still fresh with the loss of Highlands Middle School student Lilliana Schalck in February, and counselors throughout the district created a backbone of support for students, staff and families touched by the tragedy.

Elementary counselors Whitney McKay, Rachel Caswell and Shauna Luebbers receive Global Leadership awards from Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Jamee Flaherty

Highlands High counselor Erica Thomas took the opportunity to thank and honor her elementary school colleagues for their support and care especially over the last few months. She nominated Rachel Caswell, Shauna Luebbers and Whitney McKay as Empathetic Collaborators, with a heartfelt speech.

"The term empathetic collaborator was recently best summarized as I see you, I hear you, I feel you, I’m with you. Let’s do this together. As a member of our district counseling team, this description perfectly describes my amazing colleagues. Unfortunately, in my four years at Highlands High School we experienced two student deaths at middle and high school levels. This is one of the most difficult and tragic experiences as a counselor and as a member of this community," Thomas said.

"As a counselor, you do everything you can to support your staff, your students and your parents as they grieve this loss. If there is anything I could learn from these experiences – always tell those around you how much you appreciate them, how much they mean to you. Rachel, Whitney and Shauna, you are invaluable members of our district counseling team...As elementary counselors you foster positive relationships with students and develop a strong foundation that helps them be successful in the next stage of life..."

Thomas added, "I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude not only for the hard work you do everyday but especially on the hard days. You saw, you listened, you were with us and we got through this together. I am proud to call you my colleagues and my friends. Thank you."

Leadership traits from school leaders to first graders 


Moyer Principal Dawn Laber was honored as a Courageous Leader. She stands next to her nominator parent Kevin Hagerty and Fort Thomas school board member Ann Meyer.

Moyer Principal Dawn Laber was nominated as a Courageous Leader by parent Hagerty for all the hard work she does for her students and staff.

"Dawn Laber is one of the hardest working people I know. I’ve told her that there is no way any of us can comprehend what is on her plate, the meetings, committees, parents, kids, state requirements, I don’t know how she does it. Yet she’s out there on Monday mornings with her speaker dancing for music Monday," Hagerty said.

"...How can she be responsible for hundreds with her other duties yet make you feel like you and your concerns matter? How can she remember you and your individual concern among all that other stuff? How many times on a Friday night or a Sunday night is her van at Moyer, and she is sending out the weekly parent email or responding to an individual concern? I’m going to borrow one of her favorite words. She is amazing," he said.

In April, the Global Leader awards honored their youngest recipients yet. Woodfill teacher Casey Gesenhues nominated two first-graders from her class as Empathetic Collaborators.

"There is no greater gift that a teacher can receive than to see her students genuinely love one another. Of all the things I try to teach and instill in my students, being compassionate and empathetic are very close to the top of that list. Just last week we had Disability Awareness Week, and students were given many opportunities to see and better understand the diversity of the human condition. They were encouraged to support all members of our community regardless of a diagnosis," Gesenhues said.

She took the opportunity to honor two students, Harper H. and Elle M. who stood out even before the awareness week activities as young people who make it a point to reach out and support their fellow students regardless of ability or any other concern. "They make our classroom, our school, our school district and our world a better place. They consider the well-being of their classmates and look out for those who may have different needs. They didn’t need Disability Awareness Week to help them better understand how empathy improves our relationships or how crucial it is to accept and celebrate others regardless of their diagnosis..."

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She added, "They are the first to offer their hands when someone needs assistance heading outside during a fire drill. Without any prompting they recognize when someone is hesitant or looking around nervously. They will take a chair and plop themselves right down next to that person to offer whatever help they can. They have brought their peers back when they are visibly upset, and they never ask what is wrong or why are they crying, they just say 'I’m here if you need me. I can sit with you.'"

With pride, she said, "I’ve never had two students more in tune with the needs of others than these two girls. The last example I will share is from the tail end of our Disability Awareness Week. Each day we watched a video from Special Books by Special Kids. The video featured a former special education teacher interviewing people with different disabilities to share what life is like from their perspective and how they can educate others on what it is like to live in their shoes..." she said.

"The one comment that blew me away came from Elle, who, at the end of the week, said, 'Miss Gesenhues, can we keep watching these videos each week? I think they help us understand people who are different from us. I really like seeing them and learning new things.'"

Gesenhues said that request touched her so much that she created a new tradition in her classroom. Each week the students watch a video and discuss it, brainstorming ideas on how to celebrate each other and continue to be more loving compassionate people.

"And, it all started with two kind and empathetic girls in my classroom that are sharing their voices and their innate ability to be global leaders even at six years old. They are the epitome of empathetic collaborators," she said.

To nominate someone for a Global Leader Award, contact Sally Race. For more information, see the Portrait of a Graduate section of the Fort Thomas Independent Schools website.

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