The greatest act of optimism: Knox Middle School teacher recognized for classroom innovation

Published 12:10 am Thursday, February 2, 2023

Felecia Young is a magician, but not the rabbit-in-a-hat, saw-you-in-two type of magician. No, her box of tricks is far more challenging, complicated and death-defying. She’s a seventh-grade math teacher.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Curriculum Associates named Young to its 2023 class of Extraordinary Educators, an annual program that celebrates and connects exemplary teachers from kindergarten to eighth grade.

“This opportunity highlights the amazing things my district, school and students are doing in education,” Young said. “I am excited to collaborate with other educators to learn new strategies to use in my school to help students grow.”

Chosen from hundreds of nominations, Young is among 30 educators from 22 states selected for exhibiting best-in-class use of the learning software i-Ready, an online program for reading and mathematics that help student’s teachers determine their needs by personalizing their learning, establishing goals and monitoring progress throughout the school year.

“i-Ready gives them that opportunity to fill in the gaps of those skills they are struggling with,” Young said. “We use it every single day.”

Young indicated that having those milestones encourages the students.

“We are currently going through our data talks,” Young said.

Thanks to the i-Ready format, one of Young’s students grew six reading levels in one year.

“It’s an amazing program,” Young said.

In the wake of the pandemic, it has helped catch the students back up and have fun doing it.

“Once the kids buy into it and see their growth, it’s more motivation for them to get their work done,” Young said.

One of the hallmarks of Young’s selection by Curriculum Associates was how she employed innovation in the classroom.

“I do a lot of sharing what my kids do on social media,” Young said. “I love to share with other teachers. That was another part of it as well.”

Young indicated that it tickles her students to see themselves on her social media platforms. She’s on Instagram, Twitter and even TikTok.

“I started TikTok during the pandemic, when I needed to motivate my kids to learn at home,” Young.

The videos earned Young recognition from the state capitol, as Gov. Roy Cooper paid Knox Middle a visit in 2021.

“He actually did a TikTok with me,” Young said.

It didn’t stop there. Young was invited to the White House and met the first lady.

All the accolades and recognition are extraneous for Young, who is always trying to find a way to relate the material.

“Kids need to want to learn,” Young said. “School can have the stigma of being boring, but making your class fun and innovative makes the kids want to learn, and it motivates them to get their work done, understand the concept and actually try. Math is that subject you either know or don’t, and it can be really hard. So, pushing them and making the class innovative is fun for them.”

The students that Young interacts with daily shed light on the type of teacher she was.

“She makes learning interesting and fun at the same time,” Jamari Mitchell said.

Fellow seventh grader Kennedy Streater added, “She’s a good teacher. She is hard on us, but she makes sure that we are good and successful. Sometimes the work is hard, but she is there to help us. If you go to her desk, she will show you the steps until you get it.’

Streater indicated that she would feel comfortable taking any questions to Young.

When learning new problems in mathematics, it is easy to get bogged down, but Young knows how to keep her students motivated.

“If you get stuck on something, you can go ask her and she will help you,” said seventh grader Naturi Wade. “She will show you what you are doing wrong and how to fix it.”

Young recently helped Wade, who got stuck on two-step expressions.

“I didn’t know how to do it at first because I didn’t understand the addition and subtraction of the idea,” Wade said. “When I asked (Young), she showed me what I was doing wrong and how to do it.”

Sometimes, Young has to accept that she might not have all the answers, but that doesn’t stop her from finding someone who can as exemplified by her assistance of Peyton Spittle.

“She’s not afraid to do what she needs to do,” Spittle said. “She will also make sure that everyone is on the same track.”

Spittle remarked that Young helped secure her a tutor to overcome recent struggles with certain math problems.

Fellow student Dadrin Donald added, “She looks out for us. Sometimes, she gets on my nerves, but she is still a good teacher.”

Asked how his teacher was good, Donald referred to a time when she modeled a problem for them to understand.

Donald explained that Young’s method of conveying the material always comes across as genuine.

“She models for us how to set up the problem,” Donald said. The seventh grader indicated that Young’s way of showing them instead of telling them how to do a problem made it easier to get to a solution.

Sometimes, Young’s gestures are as simple as helping solve a problem. Other times, she reimagines the dynamic at school, as Knox Middle security officer Estelle Robison pointed out.

“Young is the team lead for the seventh-grade hall here,” Robinson said. “On the 100th day of school, all the teachers on her team dressed up as old people and it was her idea. I thought it was so creative.”

For someone who pushes the status quo and challenges her students constantly to persevere, Young has joined the selective ranks of Extraordinary Educators.

“Teachers are true rockstars,” said Emily McCann, Curriculum Associates vice president of educator Community, Policy and Proposals. “This year’s Extraordinary Educators are no exception. They represent the best of the best. We are happy to recognize and celebrate (Young) for her amazing work in the classroom and look forward to providing her with ongoing professional learning and networking opportunities to help her continue to grow her craft.”

With nearly 340 years of combined teaching experience, the class of 2023 includes classroom teachers, special education teachers and instructional specialists.

The Extraordinary Educators will have continued access to a network of peers from around the country to collaborate, connect, and learn from throughout the year and to professional development opportunities from Curriculum Associates. They will also be invited to participate and present at the Extraordinary Educators Leadership Summit and other professional learning events.