SPC College of Education grad Katelyn Pilsbury has been named Florida’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Rookie Teacher of the Year. The award, given annually by the Florida Council for Exceptional Children, honors the state’s best new ESE teacher during their first three years of work.
Pilsbury, 25, is a full-time Autistic Spectrum Disorder kindergarten teacher at Plumb Elementary School in Clearwater. She emotionally recounted how her principal last year, Seymour Brown III, told her that she was the first teacher he had nominated for this award in 30 years.
“I always knew I’d be a good teacher and love my students,” said Pilsbury. “But I never thought I’d be a teacher that would win an award for what I did.”
This year’s winner will be announced at an awards dinner on Friday, Oct. 18.
Preparing for success
Pilsbury completed a bachelor’s degree in Exceptional Student Education (K-12) with a certification in Elementary Education with ESOL and Reading Endorsements at SPC. This summer, she also completed her Autism endorsement at SPC.
“I had personal relationships with my SPC teachers,” said Pilsbury. “They cared about me. If I didn’t get something they took the time to really explain it.”
In the classroom
Currently in her second year of teaching at Plumb Elementary, Pinellas County’s largest elementary school, Pilsbury leads a team of two ESE associates to provide the individual attention the six children, all boys, in their class require. Today’s lesson was focused on the difference between day and night.
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“What do you see in the day?” she said slowly. “Yes, the sun. What color is the sun? Yes, the sun is yellow.”
The cadence in her voice and simple repetitive phrasing have a calming effect on the children. Her classroom is cheerful, orderly and filled with bulletin boards and learning resources specifically designed to help autistic students learn. They each have their own color chair.
“Caden, sit in the green chair,” she says.
He comes back, sits down and the lesson continues. In this class, the lesson is as much about staying focused, following directions and listening as it is about the sun, the moon and the stars.
SPC Education Internships
All College of Education students at SPC are given extensive experience in public schools including diverse placements in elementary, middle and high schools. The role veteran educators’ play in coming alongside new teachers like Pilsbury is priceless.
“I learned so much in my final internships,” Pilsbury said. “That was when I really knew I was ready to be a teacher and have my own class.”
Her final internship was at Blanton Elementary School, where she was mentored by veteran teacher Kathleen Hehn in a K-2 classroom for Independent Varying Exceptionalities (IVE). The Kindergarten-Grade 2 children in her class had a variety of special needs stemming from Traumatic Brain Injuries, Seizure Disorders and Downs Syndrome.
Hands on learning
In her first year of teaching, Pilsbury worked with funding from USF’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) to plant a garden on campus that the kids worked in. The produce stand they created brought a new level of excitement and learning to her class.
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“They were exchanging money and communicating with others,” she said. “They said things like ‘What would you like?’ It was so exciting.”
She is applying for grants for the same project again this year in partnership with CARD, the Partnership for Effective Programs for Students with Autism (PEPSA) and The Florida Farm Bureau.
Local CEC chapter hosts state conference
Pilsbury was the winner of the local version of the same award in April. Since that time, she also was named Vice President of the Suncoast 176 Chapter of the CEC.
She and a team of other members of the local chapter are busy finalizing plans to host this year’s Florida CEC Annual Conference, Going to Bat for Kids, Oct. 17-19 at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront.