Susan Young was nominated by a parent, Lori O'Leary. O'Leary's eldest daughter, Keira, had Ms. Young for fifth grade. Keira has always loved school and worked hard to get good grades.
"Ms. Young encouraged her to challenge herself. My husband and I noticed that Keira flourished in Ms. Young’s class and truly came into her own, focusing more on enjoying learning rather than the letter grade….which resulted in higher grades," O'Leary said. "We recognized that Ms. Young has a unique ability to connect with each student. She was the first teacher to take the time to understand and get to know Keira and and support her own personal growth and learning."
Over the last summer, O'Leary learned that Ms. Young was changing schools because she wanted the opportunity to help open a new K-4th charter school and create a close parent-school environment within it. Not knowing much about the school, but having full faith in Ms. Young, O'Leary decided to enroll her youngest daughter, Reagan, so she could have Ms. Young as her fourth grade teacher. Reagan has dyslexia and has always been several grade levels behind in reading and math. She hated school, and completing homework was a nightmare that usually resulted in tears. Her teachers would say that she was “just a little behind,” and they’d give her better grades than she deserved.
"I met with Ms. Young in August to discuss Reagan. Ms. Young was the first teacher to agree Reagan was significantly behind. She wanted to create a team plan with Reagan, herself, my husband and I, to support Reagan," O'Leary recalled. "She wanted to know what she could do to help Reagan, what motivated her and what the obstacles were. She supported Reagan the way that Reagan needed."
Ms. Young teaches and demonstrates the important values of respect, responsibility, and support to her students. This makes her classroom a nurturing environment for every student, giving each student what they need. By instilling values of respect and teamwork within her classroom, she created a safe environment for Reagan, which is what she needed most.
"Reagan feels supported by her classmates and her teacher, rather than teased or embarrassed for making a mistake or reading slower than her friends," O'Leary said. "Ms. Young gave her the confidence to try and the understanding that a wrong answer is just a first step to getting it right and trying again is success in itself."
"In a few short months, I have a new daughter and Ms. Young has a new student," O'Leary continued. "Reagan now comes home and asks if she can read a few extra minutes at bedtime. She now does her homework without a comment from me and is proud to show me her completed work."
Reagan comes home from school smiling, excited to share what she learned or read at school and she loves to go to school every morning.
"I was in tears when she came home with her progress test results; she had surpassed her growth goal for the whole year in only 3 months, and her reading fluency score had doubled," O'Leary recalled. "She has worked so hard and is thriving now. Her reading and math skills have taken off. I know that this drive, determination, and achievement were founded in Ms. Young’s classroom. She chose Ms. Young’s Christmas gift, which also made me cry."
The gift was monogrammed with “Thanks for making me a smart cookie!” With dyslexia, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t succeed and she would say she was dumb. The support, encouragement, and environment that Ms. Young has given Reagan has made her believe and know that she is smart and capable of anything.
Ms. Young has had a wide variety of life experiences which truly enrich her teaching. She has been a truck driver, been in the financial world, a small business owner, and an assistant principal, just to name a few. She came into her teaching career later than most teachers, but she found what she was meant to be. All of those experiences enhance her teaching because she has learned how to adapt in different situations and with different types of people. This is evident in the way that she teaches each student, not a classroom or one-size-fits most approach.
Ms. Young has also dedicated herself to making the entire school a positive, supportive, and encouraging environment. She encourages her 4th graders, who are the highest grade in the school, to be examples to all grades and to continuously foster a community environment in the school. She volunteers much of her free time to lead school committees, plan school activities, increase school-parent communication, and to assist the school’s principal with school governance and administration.
"Time and time again, she goes above and beyond to ensure that Doral Academy, and every student within it, can be the best it can be," O'Leary said. "Ms. Young has undeniably been Reagan’s LifeChanger…but she has also changed the lives of our entire family by bringing out the Reagan that we all knew was inside her, but we didn’t know how to reach. Ms. Young is, without a doubt, the best teacher that I have ever known. I only wish that I had a teacher that made such an impact on my life, as she has made on my daughters' and my family."