Robert Jagielski, Mary Kay Altizer, and Jodi Spoon-Sadlon with their Distinguished Alumni awards.
Robert Jagielski, Mary Kay Altizer, and Jodi Spoon-Sadlon with their Distinguished Alumni awards.

Distinguished Educators Make a Difference in Students’ Lives

by Alyssa Burlingame

Teacher Appreciation Week is here, providing a timely reminder about the important role educators play throughout the year in our schools and communities. Recently, Azusa Pacific University’s School of Education hosted the third annual Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony to recognize three APU alumni who are making a difference in education within the categories of impact, influence, and innovation.

Impact: School Counselor Jodi Spoon-Sadlon, M.A.Ed. ’10

During the April 13 ceremony, Jodi Spoon-Sadlon, M.A.Ed. ’10, received the award for impact. Spoon-Sadlon is a school counselor for two elementary schools in the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, and has been an educator for 18 years.

In her role, she emphasizes a holistic and personalized view of growth and development in her students, working alongside teachers and parents to help students succeed. “By educating the whole child—through encouraging and positive social interactions and nurturing their individualism—children work and play with excitement,” said Spoon-Sadlon. “After spending time with a student to truly understand them as an individual, I am able to talk with their teacher or parent and help convey a method of education that truly meets the needs of that child.”

The impact of Spoon-Sadlon’s efforts is evident throughout her schools and the district at large. By implementing innovative programs for students and providing support and training for teachers, she improved school attendance and shaped a positive climate that benefits student learning. Her successes contributed to the district’s decision to expand their staff of counseling personnel who work together to unlock student potential, something Spoon-Sadlon is passionate about. “I get to remove barriers or obstacles in learning,” she said. “I get to find resources for those in need and be the seamstress who weaves together the tapestry of a student’s education and social-emotional well-being.”

Influence: Principal Robert Jagielski, M.A.Ed. ’97

With more than 25 years of experience in public education, Robert Jagielski, M.A.Ed. ’97, received the alumni award for influence. Currently the principal of Sussman Middle School in Downey Unified School District, Jagielski has worked to create an effective learning environment for all students to thrive.

“Middle school is a critical time when young people begin forming the attitudes, thought patterns, and work habits that they will carry through the rest of their lives,” he said. “I make it a point to speak with students daily in a way that promotes their well-being and growth, both inside and outside of the classroom.”

As an educational leader, Jagielski is known to all as a champion for students. While prioritizing academic and social-emotional achievement, he has revitalized the school, shaping strategies to serve the diverse students who will spend a portion of their formative years at Sussman.

“Our school has the highest attendance rate in the entire district through eight months of the school year,” said Jagielski “For a middle school where kids at this age are facing numerous challenges as they grow up, that means they feel safe and love coming to school, and that is a great achievement that says a lot about our school and community.”

Innovation: Performing Arts Chair Mary Kay Altizer, M.A. ’15

The award for innovation was presented to Mary Kay Altizer, M.A. ’15, department chair of performing arts at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village. Altizer is an accomplished musician who brings a passion for the arts and educational technology to the students of Oaks Christian, where she conducts the orchestra, leads the piano department, and directs a cutting-edge digital recording and production program.

Under her leadership, students participated in an international collaboration with peers from a Swedish music academy, working together to produce music and eventually performing in a joint concert at the American embassy in Stockholm. In the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack in the capital city, the visit became an unexpected opportunity to support the community and their musical collaborators while focusing on the unity that comes through the shared language of music.

“This collaboration was eye-opening to both our faculty and our students,” said Altizer. “We were able to experience music on a higher level, while students worked together on songs with students from a different culture and country. The result was new creativity, the willingness and ability to listen to new concepts, and witnessing new creations that arose out of cooperation and sharing artistic inspiration.”

Now It’s Your Turn . . .

Impact, influence, and innovation. Chances are, you know educators who fit one or all of these categories. This Teacher Appreciation Week, take time to #ThankATeacher who made a difference in your life.