‘I’m always up for a challenge,’ teacher says

As students head off for summer vacation, Becky Cicione will simply be changing her teaching venue.

The Connerton Elementary School teacher will spend her summer teaching in Pasco County Schools’ science camp for children at Title 1 schools.

“When I do my work in the summertime, it’s an outdoor science camp that’s enhanced by iPads. It’s held through district. We go to different locations.

Becky Cicione helps Alice Clark as she tries to get her electronic device to work. Meanwhile, Matthew Graves tries to work through a mathematics problem. Students at Connerton are allowed to bring their own electronic devices, with a parent’s permission, Cicione said. (B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

Becky Cicione helps Alice Clark as she tries to get her electronic device to work. Meanwhile, Matthew Graves tries to work through a mathematics problem. Students at Connerton are allowed to bring their own electronic devices, with a parent’s permission, Cicione said.
(B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

“Every week, I have a new school. I spend four days with those kids,” she said, doing hands-on experiments.

When she’s not teaching the summer classes, though, she teaches fifth-graders at Connerton Elementary School in Land O’ Lakes.

Her favorite age group is between 9 and 14, she said.

“That’s the age group where they start to develop their real personalities,” she said. She enjoys trying to teach them crucial information as they begin to exhibit “that teen attitude,” she said. “I’m always up for a challenge.”

She also enjoys using technology in her classroom to help students learn.

She doesn’t use technology every day because the school doesn’t have enough equipment to make that happen, but she sees its value.

During a recent mathematics class, for instance, Cicione posed a number of questions, which students worked out on iPads, which had been checked out for the class.

Except for some technical glitches, the students worked quickly through a series of problems.

Cicione projected the work and the answers on a board, so students could see the results.

At the same time, the computers tracked the students’ work — giving the teacher a tool she can use to help her pinpoint which students are struggling, as well as to see who is staying on pace or excelling.

She used an app called NearPod that allows her to see and save each child’s response to her questions. She can use the information she gleans to provide immediate support when students need it.

The teacher thinks that her use of technology may have contributed to her recognition by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet during a spring meeting at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

Cicione doesn’t know who nominated her for the Shine Award, but she was pleased by the recognition.

The Governor presents medals to the recipients throughout the year, to show appreciation for Florida’s exceptional teachers and for their commitment to improving the state’s education system.

Cicione said someone from the state Department of Education called Connerton Principal Aimee Boltz informing her that Cicione had been nominated and asking if the teacher was a worthy candidate.

“My principal (Aimee Boltz) goes, ‘Absolutely,’ ” Cicione said.

“She called me right away. She said, ‘You would not believe this. You have been nominated for the Shine award.’ ”

Then the principal announced it over the school intercom.

“My kids start cheering and jumping up and down.” Cicione said.

When Cicione returned to the school with the medal, her students were excited, the teacher said.

“The kids wanted to see it. They wanted to touch it. They were like, ‘Mrs. Cicione, you have to hang it up.’ ”

She told her students: “This is for you guys because I’m here, for you.”

Now in her fifth year of teaching, Cicione said the award was a shock.

“I kept thinking to myself, ‘I’m so young. I just turned 28.’ ”

Many of the other recipients, she said, had been teaching for decades.

At Connerton, she teaches mathematics and science to fifth-graders.

She thoroughly enjoys her job.

“I just love kids. I love working with them. They take you for who you are. They love you no matter what, and all they want is love,” Cicione said.

She recalls beginning to develop a love for math during second grade.

Her teacher was amazing, she said.

“He just was so kind. He made math so much fun,” she said.

One of the things she likes about teaching math is that it is a universal language.

She’s had students who were still learning English, but their eyes light up when they see that they’re facing math problems, she said.

“They’re like, ‘Ah, numbers. I get it.’ ”

Because math came easy to her, she said she’s been able to find ways to help make it easier for her students.

“I do a lot of small group. I do a lot of one-on-one,” she said.

She also pairs kids up as study buddies, to help each other.

“Kids learn well from each other. In order to learn better yourself, teaching it kind of reinforces those concepts.”

But she’s also mindful that some children are ahead of the curve and need more challenging work.

When she encounters that, she gives those students more difficult work and while they’re busy with that, she’ll use time to give struggling students additional help.

“It’s a balancing act. Every group of kids, it’s different,” she said.

As much as she enjoys teaching, there’s a job she would like even more.

She’d love to give teachers the technology support they need, she said.

“When things break down, we need it fixed right away. I’m very tech savvy. I love to fix things,” she said.

She’d also love to teach teachers how to use technology and to tap into all of the ways it can help to enrich lessons.

“If you don’t have someone to show you the way, you’re kind of lost,” she said.

At one point, Pasco County Schools had positions that were designed to do the kind of work she’d like to do, but those positions were eliminated by budget cuts.

With the increasing use of technology in schools, Cicione thinks that kind of position will one day be restored.

“That’s like my dream job. I know it will come back,” Cicione said.

Published June 3, 2015

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