When it comes to success in schools, the focus is often focused on the students, and deservedly so.
On occasion, however, the time comes to shine the spotlight on some of the teachers who help those students achieve that success, and in that spirit, the Waconia Education Association (WEA) recently announced that Karen Cardinal and Kay Young are the Waconia ISD Teachers of the Year for the 2012-2013 school year.
Cardinal is a second grade teacher at Southview Elementary School and Young teaches special education at Bayview Elementary School.
Cardinal has been teaching for 25 years, with 10 of the past 12 years of her career occurring at Waconia.
After earning an elementary education degree with a music minor at Moorhead State University, Cardinal spent three years doing camping ministry, serving as a youth director and performing recreation work while also doing Title I teaching in Grand Rapids, Minn. After that, career stops included teaching in St. Paul, Eagan and River Falls, Wis., before landing a position in Prior Lake that lasted eight years.
It was then that Cardinal arrived at Waconia Schools, where she taught Academically Talented students at both elementary schools and the middle school for the next two years. Unfortunately, the program ended up getting cut so Cardinal left Waconia to teach in Gaylord for two years before returning to Waconia for the past eight years, teaching at Southview every year (three years at third grade and the last five at second grade).
Cardinal said she was humbled to receive the award because of the team approach employed in the schools.
“I know how hard we all work and I know we can’t do our jobs alone so I feel like I’m representing a really hard-working group of people,” said Cardinal, who was honored with a similar Teacher of the Year Award while working at WestWood Elementary in Prior Lake. “It’s very humbling. Kay and I are representing our district teachers. There isn’t anything I’ve done that they haven’t done.”
As a teacher, Cardinal appreciates the energy and curiosity displayed by her students.
“I learn from them every day,” said Cardinal, who lives in Norwood Young America. “My whole philosophy of teaching is I don’t see them as second graders; I see them 20 years from now and think, ‘What do I need to do now to get them to reach their dreams when they are adults?’”
In addition to academics, Cardinal places an emphasis on teaching life skills that will benefit her students.
“We teach so much more than academic skills. We teach skills they’re going to use for life — and they teach me as much as I teach them,” she said. “One of the things I love about teaching is when a parent or student comes back and tells me I made them feel special and I helped them build confidence. I’ve had many conversations like that where they say, ‘You made me believe I could do it,’ and I think, ‘Wow, I really gave something back.’”
In her free time, Cardinal enjoys reading, walking the dog and spending time with her family, including husband Dale and teenage children Emily and Andrew.
“I love going to my daughter’s singing events. She sings at coffee houses and does lighting for plays,” said Cardinal, who also noted that she spends a lot of time watching her son play baseball and basketball.
According to one person who nominated Cardinal for the award, “Karen exemplifies a caring, dedicated character putting forth her best effort every day in and out of the classroom ensuring each student feels valued and worthy going home at the end of the day with their heads held high. She steps forward when she sees the need regardless of the extra load she may have to take on — always with a smile.”
An education veteran with almost 25 years of experience, Young graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead and spent the first three years of her career teaching fifth and sixth grade and K-8 music at a quaint Lutheran school in Watertown, Wis. Young then worked as a substitute teacher while attending Mankato State University as a full-time student to work on a master’s degree in special education. She has taught special education for the past 20 years in Waconia, the first 17 at Southview and the last three at Bayview.
Young, who lives in Waconia, admitted that she was “in total shock” when she found out she had won the award.
“We have so many wonderful teachers here … (the winners) could be any number of them,” she said. “I feel very honored and I’m happy to represent our union. I’ve worked closely with Karen over the years at Southview so this is great that we’re being honored together.”
As a special education teacher, Young enjoys working with small groups of students.
“I enjoy getting to know them. Just building relationships is the best thing, telling them they can do it when they think they can’t,” she said. “I have at least one student in every grade level. It’s nice to have the variety in the ages and disability areas and help those students reach their potential.”
One fond memory Young has from her career is when she got married because many of her students attended the wedding, which was held locally, and shared that special day with her.
“I still see many of them now and it’s nice to see them successful as adults out and about, living life. It’s exciting,” she said.
When she’s not teaching, Young enjoys singing, playing the piano and organ at her church, books and scrapbooking. She also enjoys spending time with friends and family, which include husband Kevin and their children, Bonnie, a fifth grader at Clearwater Middle School, and Aaron, a third grader at Southview.
Young thanked the people who nominated her for the award. In the nominations, Young was described as being patient with a calm demeanor who has helped students at both elementary schools find success in reading and math. The nominations also noted how Young uses many strategies, including the use of music, in her teaching to meet all learning styles, and that she has a gift of reaching and communicating with her students.
Contact Todd Moen at [email protected]