The rewards of helping students explore what success feels like

By Nancy Kontney
Guest columnist
Updated 6/23/2015 9:33 AM

I can count on my 10 fingers how many times I have NOT wanted to go to work in the 34 years I have been a teacher. My passion for my work is in the relationships I have created with my students and colleagues, along with the rigor of being a lifelong learner in so many facets.

Sunny Hill Elementary School in Carpentersville has been my work home for the last seven years. I have had the privilege to work with the most amazing students and families that have changed my outlook on what is important in life in countless ways.


Extended resource teacher is my title, which gives me the opportunity to work alongside third-, fourth- and fifth-grade high-potential learners. My students fall in a high percentile cluster in comparison to other students within our building according to various identification criteria. These students are also part of the free- and reduced-lunch program as well as a portion of them being English Language Learners with Spanish as their first language.

I absolutely love the challenge of closing the achievement gap with my students while providing them with challenging material that will stretch their thinking and grow their desire to learn. These kids have talent, and our job is to make them grow and prepare them for the future while teaching in flexible groups that meet their needs.

It is so much fun to take them through the curriculum and introduce them to higher-level thinking skills. This is often done when reading books about various aspects of the history of our world that open their hearts and minds to the challenges that all people face.

Our goal is to give our kids at Sunny Hill the exposure and experiences that will become the tools they will use to be successful. It may be a college visit, as they might be the first in their family to contemplate the idea of going to college. Or, it makes sense for our kids to spend time and communicate with Sunny Hill graduates at the middle and high school levels to learn how they successfully navigated their way to high school graduation and beyond.

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As my fifth-graders get ready to move on to the challenges of middle school and mix with the rest of their peers from throughout the district, it is important to work closely with the middle school and create transition programs to ensure a positive middle school experience. These transition programs are based on the needs of my students and vary from year to year in both our middle schools.

It is our goal that the students are successful in honors or extended classes in middle school that mirror the same rigor as what we are providing. Many times it is requested and honored that our Sunny Hill kids be in class with a Sunny Hill peer. We have seen throughout the years that this makes a big difference in their success and creates confidence in their new situation.

Showing up in a middle school math class is a great way for me to see how my kids are faring in their new academic situation. I want them to know that even though they have "moved on," we are still concerned and care about their successes.

If they are struggling in a particular subject, there are opportunities for them to come back to Sunny Hill after school and get help from various resources.


It really is all about putting scaffolding in place to give them every chance to explore what success feels like at all levels. It might take a summer school class that gives them an extra boost as well as a sneak peek at what is ahead for them as middle school students. Having a middle school teacher teach this class and support them with the "inside scoop" is of course an extra bonus!

Dialogue and support among teachers from across all grade levels makes this a work in progress. All students deserve the tools, the teachers and the support of their families to be successful.

Seeing it unfold is every teacher's dream!

Nancy Kontney, a 2008 Illinois Golden Apple Award-winning teacher, has taught 34 years at Barrington Unit School District 220, the past seven as extended resource teacher at Sunny Hill Elementary in Carpentersville.

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