Two award-winning teachers create ‘safe’ places to learn

Drop by Hannah Trapani’s mathematics classroom and chances are the teacher will be helping her students figure out a complicated mathematics problem by literally drawing it out.

Trapani has been known to have students cut dyed spaghetti into specific lengths and glue the pieces to a graph, to help drive home a lesson.

“If they can start visualizing what they’re doing, I think that helps a lot,” Trapani said.

And, she’s always on the lookout for new ways to deliver instruction.

Hannah Trapani, who teaches Algebra II Honors and Advanced Placement Statistics, has been singled out for her outstanding work as a mathematics teacher.
(B.C. Manion)

“I’m constantly on Pinterest. I’m constantly on any website I can find — to try to make it easier for the kids to understand things,” the Land O’ Lakes High School teacher said.

She encourages students in her Advanced Placement Statistics and Algebra II Honors classes to risk failure because, by overcoming a fear of not knowing, they gain deeper understanding.

Meanwhile, Terry Stanley, a science teacher at the same school, also realizes that to truly learn, students must be willing to initially miss the mark.

One recent day, there was a steady hum of activity, as Stanley moved about the classroom. She helped some who were peering into microscopes, checked in with others about their observations and answered questions as they came up.

When they completed their task, she instructed her students to compare their work against published results. She directed them to offer reasons for why their results were similar or different.

As Stanley engages her Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate students, she isn’t seeking only to prepare them to perform well on tests. She has a higher aim: She wants them to develop critical thinking skills that will serve them throughout life.

While their subject matter is different, Trapani and Stanley have much in common.

For one thing, they are each recipients of a Barrett Family Foundation Excellence in Science/Mathematics Teacher Award, which recognizes outstanding teachers of mathematics and science.

Three sections of seniors taking an International Baccalaureate Biology course taught by Terry Stanley made skeletons during their muscle unit. The students took information they’d heard in the classroom, as well as information they’d read, and translated that into a three-dimensional model.

The award is provided by a nonprofit charity, based in Clearwater. It honors teachers who share their energy and enthusiasm for science or mathematics through creative and innovative methods. It carries a $10,000 prize for each recipient.

While they share many professional characteristics, they came into teaching on different paths.

Stanley said she knew from an early age that she enjoyed teaching others.

“I remember in first grade, I would do my work as effectively and as efficiently as I possibly could, so that I could be awarded to go help the next-door kindergarten teacher,” Stanley said.

Trapani, on the other hand, initially was interested in becoming a physical therapist. When she got one B, though, she dropped that idea. She knew the acceptance criteria was stringent, and didn’t think she’d be selected over others who had achieved straight As.

So, Trapani turned to something else that felt like a natural fit.

“I grew up teaching my younger brothers and sisters,” explained Trapani, who comes from a family of six children.

“In high school, the teacher would teach and I would sit next to a couple of people, and they would say: ‘Explain that to me again.’ I would help people,” Trapani added. “I knew I was always good at explaining things to other people.

“I think it (becoming a teacher) was always meant to be. I don’t think it was one defining moment. It was more like giving in to your fate,” Trapani said.

Removing barriers to learning
While both educators now teach in Land O’ Lakes High School’s International Baccalaureate program, their experience also includes teaching students of wide-ranging ability levels.

Trapani said she thinks she is a better teacher because she personally struggled as a learner and because she has taught struggling students.

“I know what it’s like to work really hard, and to finally be able to understand,” Trapani said.

Plus, she said, students at every ability level can find themselves struggling at times.

“You get these kids that are gifted and because they are so smart, they have never struggled. “And then they get to your class, and Algebra II is really the first time they see really new math.

Terry Stanley recaps a lesson and her expectations at the end of a class period during a recent class at Land O’ Lakes High School. She has been honored for being an outstanding science teacher.

“Those kids who have never had to study, who have never struggled, never hit that wall (before),” she said.

Trapani helps students by teaching them how to study for her classes.

She also makes it abundantly clear that she’s available to help students who need it.

She makes an effort at getting to know her students.

“When I go around and I check homework, I make eye contact with every person,” she said.

“I try to really connect with the kids; I think that makes a huge difference. I think if they feel you are there for them, then they’ll be there for you,” Trapani said.

“I try to help them understand that their self-worth is not wrapped up in whether or not they’re perfect at this problem, and whether or not they have an A. In the end, are they going to be a good person? Are they going to weather the storm?

“The fact that they failed my test, I’m not heartbroken about it,” Trapani said. And, she said a student who fails a test shouldn’t be heartbroken, either. Instead, her attitude is: “Let’s find a way to overcome this.”

Learning the course content is important, Stanley said, but when students leave her classroom she wants them “to know how to think, how to observe, how to ask questions.”

Stanley believes teachers must find ways to reach their students.

Teachers need to understand their audience, each individual,and then tailor-make their lessons to bring their students to the place they need to be, Stanley said.

“If they’re not interested, I try to find commonality with them. I try to find an entry point, if you will, for conversations outside of the content area.

“They understand that they have to perform in the class, but it’s a journey, and we’re going on this journey together.

“How are we going to get you to that point where you need to be?

“I’m here to help you. I’m your coach. I’m here to help you get where you need to be,” said Stanley, who teaches Advanced Placement Biology and IB Biology.

Some students are stymied by a lack of confidence, she said. Some just want to regurgitate what they’ve read in a book.

Stanley recalled that a student once told her: “I know everything I need to know about biology.”

She told the student she was happy for him, but to let her know if that perspective changed.

A few weeks later he came back to her and said: “I realize that what I know Miss Stanley is what I read in a book, and superficial. I can’t think through these problems that you’re putting on this test.”

It’s moments like those — when an obstacle to learning has been removed or overcome — that are especially gratifying, both teachers said.

Both Stanley and Trapani were pleased by the recognition they received from the Barrett Family Foundation award, and enjoyed celebrating their success with their families.

And, they have another thing in common, too.

“I absolutely love what I do,” Trapani said.

Stanley added: “I always was drawn to teaching. I just always had a passion for explaining things, observing, questioning.”

Kudos for Hannah Trapani and Terry Stanley
Hannah Trapani and Terry Stanley are each recipients of a Barrett Family Foundation Excellence in Science/Mathematics Teacher Award. Trapani teaches mathematics and Stanley teaches science, both at Land O’ Lakes High School.

Here are some excerpts from letters of support submitted on each teacher’s behalf in their nomination packets for the award.

Hannah Trapani
“Mrs. Trapani told her students that she would always be available after school … Mrs. Trapani’s devotion of her time to offer one-on-one help to me and other students who would stay after school was crucial to my success.” – Land O’ Lakes High student Ashley Kupferman

“Hannah gives freely of her time to students who struggle. She will help them during her lunch hour, before and/or after school. If a student is having difficulty with a standard, she will approach them and offer extra help and guide them to websites that provide assistance as well.” — Land O’ Lakes High mathematics teacher Amy Smith

“Hannah directs every ounce of energy towards helping all students learn. She accomplishes this by looking at each student as an individual with unlimited capabilities.” – Land O’ Lakes High Principal Ric Mellin

Terry Stanley
“… the abundance of laboratory experiments, which far exceeds my previous classroom experience, causes students to genuinely comprehend and understand the importance of the work they are doing. Ms. Stanley’s class looks to confront head-on that quintessential high-schooler question of ‘Who cares?’ and silence it with a simple answer: ‘Me.’”— Land O’ Lakes High student Camellia Moors

“To teach is to light a fire in the mind. If our role as educators is to guide students to explore the unknown, then Terry Stanley has accomplished this thousands of times over.” — Land O’ Lakes Assistant Principal Jeff Morgenstein

“Although it has been several years since I have walked the halls of Land O’ Lakes High School, I can safely say that my experience in Ms. Terry Stanley’s classroom changed my life in ways I am still realizing to this very day. Each day in her classroom was a chance to learn new and exciting things about the world around me. Going to class wasn’t just a boring lecture, it was interactive research, it was working together, and it was putting what we learned to the test.” — Land O’ Lakes High School graduate Blake Lash, now a research scientist

Published December 27, 2017


  1. Pilar Fernandez says:

    Six years ago i created the skeleton hall out of the grade8 class work.
    It was a great way tolearn the bones names and location.

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