These Topeka CAPS students are top 10 in the nation for STEM teaching

Rafael Garcia

Topeka Capital-Journal
In competing at the National Educators Rising future teacher conference, Topeka Center for Advanced Learning and Careers students Ainsley Schimmel and Manaia Isaia said they looked to teachers like their Teaching as a Profession leader Diane Kimsey for inspiration.

The first students Manaia Isaia and Ainsley Schimmel ever had were stuffed animals.

“I would line up my stuffed animals in a room, use my lamp like one of those old school projectors, say ‘OK, class,’ and hand out papers on the floor to all of my ‘students,'” Schimmel said with a laugh.

Isaia even remembers video-conferencing in a friend — before it was cool — to help teach her fuzzy friends as an elementary school student.

These were the two Topeka West students’ first brushes with the field of education, and each one’s memories played a role in piquing the students’ interest in the Teaching as a Profession pathway at the Topeka Center for Advanced Learning and Careers.

But never did Isaia or Schimmel ever imagine they’d have the chance to share that passion on a national stage.

The two students each qualified for and placed in the top 10 students for STEM lesson planning and delivery at the National Educators Rising conference this past weekend in Washington, D.C.

“They’re great kids, and this was their moment to shine on a national stage,” said Diane Kimsey, the students’ Teaching as a Profession teacher. Kimsey accompanied the pair to the four-day conference.

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Manaia Isaia and Ainsley Schimmel’s teaching path to nationals

At the National Educators Rising future teacher conference, TCALC's Ainsley Schimmel and Manaia Isaia placed eighth and ninth, respectively, in the nation for STEM lesson planning delivery.

Before they walked into the ballroom packed with 2,000 high schoolers all set on becoming future educators, Kimsey took a second to let the two students get ready for the moment.

Over the course of the past year and under Kimsey’s wing, Isaia and Schimmel had become a part of a small family of TCALC students learning from and inspiring each other to be teachers.

Teaching, it turns out, is much, much more than speaking in front of a group of kids, although that’s a portion of it. Through the course of Kimsey’s class, the Teaching as a Profession students learned that a well-designed and well-executed lesson can not only teach students — it can change their life trajectories.

Topeka West junior Ainsley Schimmel shows off a play her TCALC class created for a virtual touring experience for third-graders in March.

The goal, then, is to do for future students what their teachers have done for them.

“I don’t remember everything I learned in elementary school, but I remember the teachers’ names that I connected with and made a difference like they made a difference in my life,” Schimmel said.

In preparing for the Educators Rising conference, Isaia and Schimmel, as well as their other classmates, prepared STEM lesson plans, using state education standards and presented those lessons to students at Meadows Elementary.

Isaia had students had students learn about potential and kinetic energy using a marshmallow catapult to save a princess, while Schimmel taught students about density by having them use a small rowboat to save a gummy worm.

In competition, panels of judges reviewed the students’ lesson plans and recordings of lesson delivery, while also asking the students questions about their work. Isaia and Schimmel soared through regionals in November and placed first and second, respectively, at the state competition in February, qualifying them for nationals in June.

It was this journey the pair of students reflected on as Kimsey opened the door and showed them a ballroom full of students just as eager to teach as they were.

“Manaia and I kept looking at each other, thinking, ‘We’re in Washington, D.C., right now competing at nationals,” Schimmel said.

What it means to be a teacher

Beside competing, the students and Kimsey got to meet with high school students from all around the country and attend workshops on becoming effective teachers.

They also spent spare time touring landmarks around the country’s capital — experiences they hope can one day inform the way they teach.

“It stepped up my knowledge of what teaching can be,” Isaia said. “It was about seeing other people from around the country and learning about why they want to be teachers.”

Kimsey, who just wrapped up her first year leading one of the two Teaching as a Profession sections, and her counterpart Robin Dixon were also honored at the conference as being among of the top teacher leaders in the nation.

During their trip to Washington, D.C., Manaia Isaia and Ainsley Schimmel also visited several national landmarks, like the World Was II Memorial, to help inform their experiences as future teachers.

Tim Murrell, the retiring TCALC principal, said Kimsey and Dixon have been instrumental in building up the program.

“They are master teachers who have been able to come in and teach these kids what teaching is all about, from the ground level on up,” Murrell said.

“Without this pathway and without our teacher, we wouldn’t be learning about this profession, we wouldn’t be able to do what she’s done for us for other kids,” Schimmel said.

Leaving the conference left them inspired and even more passionate about one day becoming educators. It’s a changing and challenging profession, but it’s one that is ultimately about making a difference in students’ lives.

“You can’t teach a curriculum if your kids don’t feel like they belong — like they don’t have a place in your classroom,” Schimmel said.

As a graduate of the Teaching as a Profession pathway, Isaia already has a letter of intent-to-hire from the school district, once she transfers to Emporia State University and receives her teaching degree.

Schimmel still has a year left at Topeka West, but she’s already planning to meet Isaia at Emporia State one day. Both are ecstatic at the prospect of one day returning to teach at McCarter Elementary, the school they were both at when they had their first brushes with teaching as a calling.

“I never thought I’d want to stay in Topeka, but going to this conference made me realize how far ahead we are of everyone else,” Schimmel said. “USD 501 is an incredible district, in how we’re teaching about social-emotional learning and project-based learning.

“I’ll be back. You’ll see me around.”

Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.

Link to the original Topeka Capital-Journal article is here.