LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Megan Yirsa

Position: Sixth Grade Language Arts Teacher
School: Mark Twain Elementary School
School District: Tulsa Public Schools
City, State: Tulsa, OK

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Megan Yirsa was nominated by her colleague, Rebecca Harris.

"I am the library media specialist at our school. I have been doing this for 15 years, and I have never seen a teacher more dedicated to the cause of literacy for success in life than Megan Yirsa," said Harris. "This woman is relentless when it comes to making a difference in the lives of our students at Mark Twain. She is adamant about making sure students know the gift of a book and where it can take them in life."

When Ms. Yirsa sees a need in the school or classroom, she finds a way to meet that need. She has written over seven Donors Choose grants in the last few years. One of the grants was to provide flexible seating in her classroom. The room now consists of coffee shop tables and chairs, futon loveseats, large pillows, and flex seating for all learning styles. The setting was done.

Then, Ms. Yirsa took it upon herself to write more grants to fill in the wonder and awe of that setting. She wrote a grant for a group of Wonder books. This is just one of the many novel studies she does with her students. She always picks books that can not only be used for rich vocabulary and comprehension skills, but to bring out meaningful conversations with the students. Teaching in a poverty-level school demands deep conversations about what the students experience in life. This Wonder book was purchased to have a conversation about kindness. Every year brings a new book, with the goal of working towards change in the way her students interact with each other and with life. Another Donor's Choose grant was written for her low readers. She purchased the popular Who Was books to accommodate her lower readers.

Ms. Yirsa is known throughout her city for showing up at book fairs and spending her own money on books for her classroom library so the students will have access to books at their fingertips, all day, every day. She doesn't stop at 3:05. She also exposes students to different cultural activities in her city. Ms. Yirsa takes her sixth graders to special events outside of school such as Carmen the Opera and the Nutcracker. Plans are in the works to see the historic Outsiders House and Museum in Tulsa after that specific reading group finishes The Outsiders.

Ms. Yirsa is not only driven to make sure her students will succeed in life, but she wants her students to share and promote their love of literacy with other, younger students in the building. She started a Peer Tutoring program. Her students meet with the primary grade students once a week to read with them, play learning games with them, and let the younger students know they have an advocate for them in the building. The sixth graders are role models for their younger peers. This program plays a huge role in building leadership and interpersonal skills with her sixth graders, who otherwise would not have that chance to shine. She needed more materials for this initiative, so what did she do? She wrote an Ezra Jack Keats grant to purchase more resources for this program!

Ms. Yirsa does not limit her skills to her own classroom. She is very generous with her abilities. For example, she started another program this year called Book Buddies. This program is for the Pre-K-3rd grade students. Each student will receive a special stuffed animal as their "Book Buddy" and will take it home to read books with them. Students who read 100 books with their buddy will receive a reading medal. Students take reading logs home to record the books they read. Of course, she wrote a Donor's Choose grant to fund this also.

Another example of how she creates a positive school atmosphere is her effort to create a new program this year called The Tournament of Books. Upper grade students read two books every month and complete a book report to show they read it. Students who participate will have read 16 books by the end of the year and will receive a trophy. This was possible through a Dollar General grant that she received for $3,000.

Ms. Yirsa has been a Team Leader for Mark Twain for the last seven years. She takes her time to help other peers on her team and in the building with professional growth and any other problems or successes they may want to share. She has also been the Building Test Coordinator in her school for the last seven years. Ms. Yirsa and her fellow teacher made huge changes over the summer in the Reading Room and throughout the school to make it flow more efficiently. They did this on their own time.

Ms. Yirsa prides herself on continually reinventing herself and growing herself each year. She wants to better herself, not only for her students, but for her peers, particularly those who are beginning their journey in education. She is currently part of the Empower Team program and has been on extensive training workshops so she can serve in that role in her school and the district. Ms. Yirsa and a fellow teacher just finished a Fund for Teachers fellowship this summer for professional development. They received a grant to attend the SDE National Differentiated Conference in Las Vegas. This is a very prestigious fellowship; only a few educators are selected in each state. This grant was over $7,000. Again, Ms. Yirsa took the time to find and write this grant extensively to find success for gained knowledge. She has attended a Barbara Sorrels conference. She is nationally known for her training in Trauma and ACE, which is applicable to her students. Ms. Yirsa knows this and continually expands herself in this area. She likes to attend Debbie Diller workshops. She is the spin doctor of finding new technology for her classroom and infuses this in her daily activities. 

Her goal is to have a safe and professional school where the students feel good. She and a fellow teacher have started a brand new student council program. This year, the student council members are serving as role models for the other students. These students are part of the decision-making process for the development of the school. The student council hears about the needs of fellow students and teachers and makes plans for solving those needs.

Ms. Yirsa wants the school to be a family of students helping each other. Almost every morning, during the Rise and Roar, she is known for "shouting out" a success she has seen in the school or in her classroom. It could be another teacher or a student on the playground. She is always trying to showcase the best wherever she sees it! Ms. Yirsa took time this summer to help with cosmetic changes in the school. She and a fellow teacher painted the bottom half of the walls to coordinate the name of the halls and to give it a new look. She has set a new standard for promoting students in the halls in a very hip and clean format.

"Ms. Yirsa is setting a new bar for all of us to follow. She is a professional in our field who I put my trust in," said Harris. "She is a woman of her word and follows through with any commitment that is happening. Ms. Yirsa will stand up for students in our school who do not have a voice. She s drawn to the underdogs, and she will take those students and elevate them to mountains they have never seen before. She believes in the public education system, no matter how challenging. Ms. Yirsa is tireless in staying after school and giving up her own time so that she can be a catalyst for change...She is a stalwart for changing the system, and a champion for endurance, fortitude, and resilience...all in the name of life-long change for her students. I dare anyone to get in the way of Ms. Yirsa and her love for her students. She is a force."