Bollinger is back home in Lord Baltimore
Kayla Bollinger may only be in her 20s, but kids have long looked up to this Teacher of the Year.
“When I was younger, everyone referred to me as ‘Mom.’ I would go to different events with my parents, and the kids were just drawn to me,” said Bollinger, labeling herself calm and soft-spoken.
Now teaching fourth grade at Lord Baltimore Elementary School, Bollinger has transferred that motherliness to her own new family and that calm to the classroom.
“What I like about her classroom atmosphere is there’s always a sense of calm in her room. You always walk in and just go ‘Ahh,’” said fellow teacher Donna Smith. “Not too over the top and out of control … and the kids seem so happy.”
But don’t let the tranquility fool you. Bollinger stays sharp, always thinking ahead.
“She’s on top of her game,” Smith said. “She is so organized, and if you ever need anything she’s going to have it … She’s always prepared and looking ahead.”
“I’ve always loved kids, and I just wanted to work in a way that I could make an impact on society and help nurture kids,” Bollinger said.
Now Bollinger teaches reading and social studies at her native LB, sharing about 40 students with Smith, who covers math and science and was Bollinger’s own fifth-grade teacher.
“I always try to put the kids’ best interests first. At the beginning of the year I try to create that positive classroom environment. So they know me, and they feel comfortable with me. Kids — in order for them to learn, they have to feel comfortable in their environment,” Bollinger said. “I ask myself, ‘Is this something that I would do for my own kids?’”
She cares about her high-level students, but the magic happens when a struggling child really works hard to learn a concept.
“It’s just a rewarding experience when those kids who struggle day in and day out — it’s when the light bulb goes off for them and you see that you’ve made an impact. … It keeps you coming back for more.”
Bollinger has several special-education students in both courses, as well as Intensive Learning Center (ILC) students now coming in for social studies.
“It has made such a difference for them socially. They have been able to make friends, not just within ILC, but within the whole grade,” Bollinger said. “Before, it was a struggle to get them involved. Now the whole grade has taken them under their wing.”
Dual-certified, Bollinger graduated from the University of Delaware, which included two years with the Milford Professional Development School program, studying and teaching simultaneously.
“It’s more like an internship. We would learn something in class, then we would go practice it,” providing hundreds of more training hours than the typical education major, she said. “It was awesome.”
The biggest challenge today is “just keeping up with all the changes that are happening in education,” Bollinger said.
For instance, the district is using Common Core educational standards but still investing cautiously in new textbooks.
“There are companies that put ‘Common Core’ on their material. That doesn’t mean it’s Common Core,” Bollinger explained.
That means teachers are using the same materials to teach in new way. Or they hunt for other sources.
“We spend of most of our time just searching. … That has made it a little difficult.”
But the staff at LB are working together.
“It’s kind of like a family environment. Everybody’s so supportive [and] interested in how you’re doing outside the school, too,” Bollinger said. “They know my kids’ names and how each of them are doing.”
Bollinger also keeps school parents in the loop with students’ needs.
“She’s very on top of her game with being in communication with parents throughout the school year,” Smith said. “We talk about how uncanny it is for such a young teacher to be so in-tune and on top of her classroom responsibilities. She just does very well.”
Students and parents must have taken notice, since several of them nominated Bollinger.
“That’s an honor. You get that warm tingly feeling to know parents and students feel that strongly about you, that you’re making an impact on them,” Bollinger said.
An LB teacher committee then selected the final winner.
“I’m very honored. I totally didn’t expect it in only my fourth year of teaching,” said Bollinger, grateful for her coworkers’ years of support and advice. “It’s kind of like an eye-opener that they think so highly of me, that I’m doing all the right things.”
“She’s just so sure of herself and confident,” Smith said. “She’s going to do great things.”