By Tessa Castor
A Southwestern graduate is in the national spotlight.
Tabatha Rosproy, alumna, is the 2020 Kansas Teacher of the Year and is a finalist for the 2020 National Teacher of the Year.
Rosproy graduated from Southwestern in 2009 with a degree in early childhood unified. She knew she wanted to be a teacher in high school when she visited a preschool with her Spanish class. Rosproy said she always felt she could be true to herself while in school.
“I loved school a lot when I was a kid,” said Rosproy. “I wanted to give students what I got as a student.”
Rosproy teaches at-risk, special education and typically-developing preschool students at Cumbernauld Village, a Winfield retirement village and nursing home. Her classroom is an intergenerational program, meaning students interact daily with nursing home residents.
“Winfield’s Early Childhood Readiness Coalition identified a need for a full-day preschool in the community,” said Rosproy. She said the presence of half-day preschools was a barrier for success for Winfield families. After a couple years of red tape – lawyers, safety concerns, grant applications and the building of a playground, the Cumbernauld Village Little Vikes program began in 2018.
Little Vikes students have six contact times a day with their “grandparents,” what the students call the nursing home residents who volunteer in the classroom. One of the duties of the grandparents is reading to students. Since the program’s beginning, Rosproy saw a spike in students’ literacy skills. Her classroom boasts the highest preschool literacy and math scores in the district.
Along with teaching, Rosproy also serves as co-president of the Winfield National Education Association, is active with the Kansas National Education Association and is part of the Cowley County Special Services Cooperative Early Childhood Academy Team.
The Kansas Teacher of the Year Award process begins with two educator nominations by each school district in Kansas. Next is a regional competition, which features a written application and recommendation letters. Eight finalists from the four regions then move on to the state competition. After she completed a video interview and presentation, the department of education announced Rosproy as Kansas Teacher of the Year in November.
Rosproy said, “I don’t feel like I’m the best teacher in the state. I was selected to represent what’s best in education in Kansas.”
According to the Kansas State Department of Education’s website, “The Kansas Teacher of the Year Award recognizes and utilizes representatives of excellent teaching in the elementary and secondary classrooms of the state. Its mission is to build and utilize a network of exemplary teachers who are leaders in the improvement of schools, student performance and the teaching profession.”
Since being named the Kansas Teacher of the Year, Rosproy now finds herself traveling around the state and country, presenting with the Kansas Teacher of the Year Team.
The team is made up of the Kansas Regional Teachers of the year. Their presentations include “The Power of Community Connections,” “Early Childhood Education: A Place at the Table,” “Creating the School Family,” “Engaging Learners Through Magic Moments” and “Building Relationships with Family.”
The team will present at an EdBuilders and Cowley College event on April 8 in Deets Library. At the event, Rosproy and her team will present to give future educators a glimpse of the classroom and inspire them.
“This process has been a whirlwind,” said Rosproy. “I’m out of my classroom an average of three days per week. It’s been challenging to balance what is essentially two full-time jobs. I tell myself I’m advocating for them in a different way, but I miss my kids. Keeping their needs at the forefront keeps me motivated.”
On Jan. 26, the Council of Chief State School Officers announced four finalists for the 2020 National Teacher of the Year. Rosproy was on the list, alongside educators from Louisiana, Ohio and Montana.
The Council of Chief State School Officers’ website says, “The National Teacher of the Year program, run by CCSSO, identifies exceptional teachers nationwide, celebrates their effective work in and outside of the classroom, amplifies their voices and empowers them to take part in policy discussions at the state and national levels.” The council will announce the National Teacher of the Year April 20. If the council awards Rosproy with the title, she will be flown to CBS for an interview.
“Throughout her decade of teaching, Rosproy has learned the importance of social-emotional education,” says the Council of Chief State School Officers’ website. “She prioritizes social-emotional learning in her classroom and works to educate families and other educators on this important issue.”
As a student at Southwestern, Rosproy participated in Student Life and was the president of the Student Government Association. She also played in the 9 LIVES Improvisational Comedy Troupe, where she became close with Allyson Moon, associate professor of theatre and speech.
Moon said, “I think Tabatha is an incredibly creative mind. She’s not afraid to take risks. She’s deeply committed to her students and teaches with such energy and joy.”
While Rosproy is not from Winfield, she said she felt drawn to the town after graduating college and moving away.
“There is need here,” said Rosproy. “We have real poverty in Winfield. The connections I built while at SC drew me back to the community.”
Last semester, Rosproy returned to SC as a professor. She taught Fine Arts in the Elementary School. Brailey McMinn, elementary education senior, took the class, along with two other education students. The class was Rosproy’s first time teaching at Southwestern.
McMinn said, “Tabatha made the class really hands-on. She’s so fun and outgoing. She has a very bubbly personality and gets to know you as a person.”
Of all the lessons taught over the semester, McMinn said Rosproy taught her to expect the unexpected in the classroom and be ready for everything. She said Rosproy also taught her to get to know her students on a personal level.
“She started every class by saying, ‘Tell me something new and good with you each week,’” said McMinn. “I really liked the atmosphere of the class. I was always excited to go. She really made it worthwhile by making the class personal to us.”
Moon said, “Tabatha’s a forward thinker and just does the right thing. Other people see the good she does, which I think is why she’s Kansas Teacher of the Year. She taught me how students can grow and change and that you can always redefine yourself. That inspires me.”
Tessa Castor reported on this story from her home in Clearwater, Kansas.