St. Cecilia teacher honored for guiding students through pandemic

For most teachers, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, alternating from online to in-person learning and trying to keep everyone safe — all while attempting to simply keep their students focused on the task at hand.

Locally, a teacher at St. Cecilia Catholic School received a welcome surprise last week. While 2nd-grade teacher Emily Cornell was teaching her class, it was disrupted by a STAR 101.5 associate who presented her an award for excellence in teaching as part of the radio station’s Teacher of the Week program, along with a check for $101.50.

“It’s been so nice to have all of the hard work recognized, especially over the past year between online and in-person. It’s very validating,” Cornell said.

This is Cornell’s ninth year teaching at St. Cecilia, which is her first teaching job since graduating from Carroll College in Montana. Cornell is also the lead teacher in the Olympic Region for the GRACE Teacher Leadership Program, consisting of Catholic teachers.

A mother of one of Cornell’s students wrote a letter to STAR advocating for her teacher to receive the award. The letter was read when Cornell was presented with the honor. She said the kids are what she loves most about teaching.

“There’s never a dull moment in teaching,” she said. “There’s always something new, there’s always a new problem to figure out. The kids always give you so much energy; it’s just infectious. I love those ‘ah-ha’ moments as well; you see a kid working hard to get something, and then they finally get it. It makes everything worth it.”

St. Cecilia began the school year online through September before working closely with the Kitsap Public Health District to open for full in-person learning by October. Cornell said she had some families who opted to stay online so she had to continue balancing both settings for students. She has 12 kids in-person and two online.

“It was really, really difficult,” Cornell said. “The way that you engage online students is very different from engaging the kid’s in-person. It really was a merry-go-round of trying to figure out between technology issues…while also making sure my kid’s in-person are staying safe as well.”

Cornell also said “trying to keep a positive attitude” and “trying to make everything as normal” as possible has been essential in weathering the COVID storm.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations in the classroom around the past year and what it’s meant for everyone; kind of calming those fears,” she said. “Also making sure that we are excelling in our academics, never really slowing down.”

Emily Cornell (right) stands with a representative from STAR 101.5 after winning the honor.