As with many great teachers, education is a family profession for Cate Cardella. She comes from a long line of teachers, including both of her parents, and always knew that she wanted to follow in their footsteps. Her father, Mike Maher, taught High School Mechanics at MidValley Vocational Center (now Fox Valley Career Center) for over 34 years. Her mother, Ruth, was also a teacher, and helped to open Tyler School in DeKalb in 1969.
After living in Florida for 16 years and teaching there, Cardella moved back to DeKalb in 2011. She started out substitute teaching in District 428 and picked up a long-term assignment as elementary art teacher, where she rotated through four schools. One those schools was her Alma-mater, Tyler Elementary. Six days before school started in 2012, she was hired at Tyler to teach Kindergarten. Since 2017, she has been a 1st-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School.
Cardella said she chooses to teach in DeKalb because as a resident of the city she believes that strength in community and schools is priceless. She also enjoys connecting with families outside of the school day, such as seeing them at community events and around town.
“Teachers in a community are incredibly important because they are helping to raise our future,” said Cardella. “District 428 has incredibly dedicated professionals who genuinely care for their students on top of providing them a quality education.”
Cardella said she heard someone say that their taxes should be lower because they don’t have children to send to D428 schools. Her response to them would be that we are a village helping to raise our future nurses, business owners, street workers, elected officials, parents and community members together.
She points out that for nine months out of the year, teachers see kids sometimes for more time during the day than parents. “I know my own child’s preschool teachers and his child-care provider see him for more hours during the day right now than I do,” said Cardella. “I put a lot of trust in that they are taking the best care of him.”
Ms. Cardella’s contractual day is from 8:35 a.m. – 3:35 p.m., but she arrives at school most days by 6:30 a.m., and leaves each day between 3:45 and 5:00 p.m. She has been known to come in on the weekends or over holiday breaks and work.
Below is a partial list of the things that Ms. Cardella does in her role as a teacher, besides the basic teaching of First Grade curriculum.
- For at least the past 5 years, their classrooms have been cleaned on an every other night basis, so every other morning she borrows the custodian’s vacuum so that her kids have a clean carpet to sit, read and work on.
- In her classroom, she inherited some flexible seating and acquired more for her students. This included writing a $4,000 Ecolab grant for her and her teammate to each have six wobble stools in their rooms. She built crate seats for her classroom library, purchased lids for bucket seats, wrote two Donors Choose projects to provide individual storage for her kids’ supplies and another Donors Choose project to purchase cushion seats to replace the broken ones in her room. She has also purchased yoga balls for her students.
- One of her students eats breakfast with her each morning, for both nutritional and therapeutic reasons
- Every week she purchases 3-4 bunches of bananas for her kids who don’t bring in snacks. She also supplies additional seasonal fruit like apples or cuties.
- Her mom knits about 200 hats each year for her class, the other first grade class and both Kindergarten classes.
- She uses the Go Noodle website to get her kids up and dancing after periods of being still.
- She purchased and put together Math Maker kits to supplement their math curriculum.
- Last year, during their Fairy Tale Language Arts unit, they invited Commander Lekkas of the DeKalb Police Department to “stand guard” at the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears Crime Scene” they created to teach main idea and detail.
- She invited DeKalb firefighters to speak to both first grade classes in October for Fire Safety month.
- She frequently purchases and makes supplemental tools for her students with her own funds. “I stopped attempting to count how much I spend,” said Cardella. “I don’t want to know.”
- She is co-wrote a proposal for an “Adopt a Class” program, which will connect teachers and their community in a partnership to help fund items needed for classrooms.
- Every year during their “meet your teacher” back to school night, she connects parents to the Remind app on their phones to receive mass, yet private, messages from her. She also gives them her personal cell phone number and communicates with many parents throughout the school year. She also keeps in touch with parents from past years, as far back as those of the first graders she had in 2001.
Some of the things she does in her building include:
- Makes the main entrance bulletin board
- Puts up a “get to know you” bulletin board in the staff lounge
- Puts the character trait of the month in one of the display cases with the definition of that month’s trait and photographs of students exhibiting that trait
- Posts monthly traits outside the office
- Posts that month’s community service drive on the Facebook page, as well as on display outside of the office
- Provides fresh flowers for the teacher’s lounge
- Puts up funny quotes for teachers’ eyes
- Makes the K-1 hallway bulletin board monthly to celebrate building staff like their librarian, social worker, psychologist, assistants, and their office staff.
Lincoln Elementary Committees on which she serves:
Sunshine: (hospitality, party planning, cards to those grieving)
PBIS: (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) green team which organizes quarterly school-wide celebrations, examines building office referrals (for behavior) monthly and brainstorms ways to reduce number of monthly referrals
Mentor Team: Meets every other month with new staff members to review current procedures or events and help support them
Report card: In the past two years they completely revamped their report cards and monitor their implementation
Redesigning Classrooms: They examine current flexible seating choices available to the district, put into place the requirements for seating, discuss research to support it and provide sessions to share out
Communications Committee: Created to examine the ways the community receives information about D428 and “rebrand” their name in light of poor PR incidents of the past four years
Cardella is the building communications rep, which means she occasionally sends out short blurbs to the Midweek, showcasing something great they’ve done at Lincoln. She is also the co-admin for the Lincoln School Facebook page, monitoring comments on posts, collecting photos and stories from colleagues to share out, creating “canva” app posts to share out information with families (i.e. book fair info, current community service project collections, spirit week plans or celebrations).
She is the Garden lead, which means she communicates with DeKalb County Community Gardens groups to keep their six garden beds running. She works with them to get the compost and plants for the beds, last year driving to Kirkland to pick up plants at Walnut Grove. She communicates with their staff in the spring about planting and organize parent/family volunteers to help maintain the garden over the summer.
As a part of her PBIS Green Team role, she also organizes monthly community service projects. This year, they collected paper products for Barb Food Mart (The D428 food pantry), and toothbrushes and toothpaste for Hope Haven. She contacts the receiving groups, organizes a day and time for them to pick up the items, takes photos and sends them to the Midweek and posts them on their Facebook page. She also occasionally volunteers at Barb Food Mart.
She writes DeKalb Education Foundation (DEF) grants to fund things needed for her classroom or building. When she was at Tyler, she started the “Book of the Month” character development program to connect literature to PBIS themes. She wrote a grant for each classroom teacher, the principal, the nurse, the lunch ladies and the custodian to have a book of the month to read to students and display in their space. This book connected to the character trait of the month. They then had each teacher pick a student monthly who exhibited that character trait, celebrated them at an assembly with a medal and a certificate, took a group picture and sent it to the Midweek.
She participated in Operation Warm fundraisers as well as the coat giveaway as a part of the DCTA and DeKalb Local 1236 program.
Ms. Cardella is currently taking a one-credit “College within a College” course provided by a D428 teacher on Restorative Justice practices to implement in her classroom. She and building colleagues are working to put restorative circles into place with a group of students who have frequent office referrals.
As you can see, Cate Cardella works tirelessly on behalf of her students and fellow educators, which is why it was our great pleasure to recognize her as the DeKalb County Online 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.