New initiatives, teachers begin at Medora schools

MEDORA — Hornets are R.E.D. Some teachers are new.

Medora students and staff are ready for the new school year. How about you?

The first day of the 2022-23 school year was Wednesday, and the two school principals announced new student recognition programs. That also marked the first day for two new teachers.

Kara Hunt, principal of the junior-senior high school, said she talked to teachers in the spring about when a student graduates from Medora or when people in the county think about students from Medora, what do they want those people to think of? The response was responsible, empathetic and determined.

That’s how the Hornets are R.E.D. initiative came about.

“If they tell someone they are going to do something, they do it,” Hunt said of being responsible. “If they bring their supplies to class — they bring their pencil, they bring their Chromebook, it’s charged — they keep their word, they are dependable also.”

Empathetic means they are kind, think of others and put themselves in other people’s shoes, she said.

“That’s a big thing that even we started talking about last year,” she said. “When you make comments to people here at school, we don’t know what else is going on, so kind of like walk a mile in their shoes and be kind to others. With social media and the overall climate that we have currently, it’s really important that kids understand that your words, they can hurt others or they can help lift other people up.”

Determined is grit.

“We want the kids to know that they can do hard things, so just continuing to being determined, having that grit, working hard, even when they face tough problems,” Hunt said.

To reward them for being R.E.D., there will be a responsible, an empathetic and a determined Hornet of the week and of the month. The monthly winners will be recognized during a school board meeting.

“Teachers are going to be passing out cards, so we really want to recognize those students for showing these different characteristics,” Hunt said.

For preschool through fifth grade at Medora STEM Academy, Principal Austin Skutnik said the Character Strong initiative will be introduced this school year.

That company offers a social and emotional learning curriculum called Purposeful People that’s built around nine character traits that are taught to achieve three different outcomes: Be kind, be strong and be well.

“Whether the kiddo is in preschool or fifth grade, every week, the kids throughout the building will be working on the same character traits,” Skutnik said. “That just looks a little bit different, obviously, at preschool than it does with fifth grade.”

All of the resources for the teachers, including videos and interactive pieces, are online, and they plan to use them to start each school day.

“We do SEL with the kids every day. This will just be the first year where pre-K through 5, we will have everyone on the exact same trail and doing the exact same thing,” Skutnik said. “We do SEL every day all day in the classrooms in one way or another.”

In addition to Character Strong, each nine weeks, one student in kindergarten through second grade and one in third through fifth grade will be recognized as a Hornet of the Quarter.

“We have a celebration where we recognize student growth, student achievement, and we make it fun for the kids,” Skutnik said. “We play games, the Hornet of the Quarter is presented a certificate and a T-shirt and we focus those around the qualities of H.O.R.N.E.T.S.: Honest, organized, responsible, nurturing, efficient, thoughtful and successful.”

Kids exhibiting those qualities in some way will be recognized.

“The kids get excited about it, and that’s one of our goals is we want to recognize our kids for more than just achieving a certain score on a test,” Skutnik said. “There are so many other aspects of being a student and a good citizen in your classroom, so we wanted to find some ways to recognize kids for that.”

The new teachers this year include Angie Pritchett, a junior high math and science teacher, and Mindy Autry, the special education teacher for preschool to 12th grade.

This is Pritchett’s third year of teaching after spending around 10 years as a social worker.

So why the career switch?

“Just the obvious — burnout,” she said. “Just doing something different, and this is something that I always wanted to do. It was my first major in college. I just made full circle and came back around.”

After graduating from Seymour High School in 1997, she majored in psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus and then completed the transition to teaching program at Taylor University.

She taught at Salem Middle School in recent years, and then she saw the opening for a math teacher at Medora, which is closer to where she lives.

“It’s closer to home, and I love the class size,” Pritchett said. “They are really small here, and I feel like I can just help students more having smaller classes, more one-on-one. I’m going from 125 students to 40, so it’s a huge difference. I’m really looking forward to it since I’ll have less students just building relationships with these kids. It’s amazing what they do here for the kids, just what the community does for the kids in Medora. I just love being a part of that.”

Her schedule consists of sixth grade math, seventh grade math, eighth grade math and sixth grade science.

“That will be a new challenge for me because I’ve never taught science,” she said. “Math is so black and white, but science, it’s a new challenge for me, so I’m going to have to see how that goes.”

Autry is beginning her 12th year as a teacher. The 1994 Brownstown Central High School graduate also started teaching a little later in life, as she went to IUPUC for that when she was 25.

She, too, taught in Salem but was at the high school level for five years. After staying home with her son for a couple of years, she taught at Bedford for three years and then was at Seymour the last three years.

She has her license to teach special education and is working on her master’s degree for deaf and hard of hearing.

“When I was growing up, I had ADHD, and in fourth grade, I had a teacher that told my mom in front of me that I would never amount to anything because I couldn’t do a times test,” she said. “I never wanted any kid to ever feel like I felt that day.”

Once she began substitute teaching, Autry said she fell in love with teaching.

“I taught dance for kids from 2 to 18 from the time I was 14 years old at Tammy’s Dance Studio, so I always wanted to work with kids,” she said. “I just love it.”

When she saw an opening at Medora for a special education teacher, Autry went for it because she lives nearby in the knobs.

She currently has 32 students in preschool through high school.

“I thought this could be a good change. I did strictly self-contained behavior before, and it was a lot after awhile, so I just needed a positive change, and I think this is going to be it,” she said.

“I’m really excited. It’s very close-knit,” she said. “(Wednesday) morning, it was so cool to see the elementary teachers that knew the high school kids. In these bigger schools, you just don’t have that. The kids are just so comfortable here. I’m really looking forward to being here. It’s going to be great.”