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Meet Denise Martin: Pre-1st Teacher

Teachers inspire students every day, it’s in their nature and embedded in their work; but for Denise Martin, she is re-inspired by her classes each year. A teaching veteran of 10 years, with a Masters in Early Childhood Education from Oglethorpe University, there’s no wonder why she received Teacher of the Year for the Lower School. Her passion to advocate for her students is palpable.

Denise works in the niche class of the K6 program, an optional class between K5 and first grade, often referred to as pre-first. This is a year of academic freedom for both students and teachers. She  focuses on fortifying her students’ abilities, whether it be their strengths or any potential learning gaps that may have gone undetected. This year lends extra, hyper-focused attention to each student. “It’s great because it is whatever you need it to be for your child. A year for growth academically, or physically, or emotionally.” The class’ academic standards are the same as Kindergarten: To prepare students for first grade--whatever that means for each class.  

The makeup of each class is incredibly varied, which is what Denise loves about getting to know each of her students on a personal level. She may work with students raised in bilingual households who need more familiarity with language learning and alphabet distinction, or students who exhibit possible learning differences, or students who are on the smaller side of the growth charts who may need more time to grow physically to be on par with their peers. Each of these students has his or her own talents that they bring to the class and their own perspectives that allow Denise the ability to craft every lesson with the intentionality each student deserves to perform at their highest.

Denise challenges each student individually. When creating math problems, one student may use subtraction with triple digits, while another student may use beginning multiplication. She asks her students, “Are you challenging your brain today?”

Students that enter the K6 class, many times, excelled in Kindergarten, have mastered those skills and beyond. Denise’s goal is to keep challenging them. “I think the key is to put them in control of their learning.”

Before working with the K6 program, Denise spent seven years as a reading coach where she honed in on students’ challenges in reading, working with them through their overall frustrations and noticing themes over time. Now as the K6 teacher, she can easily identify exactly what her students need.

“It’s frustrating for kids who might be struggling and don’t know why. If they can find out answers, that knowledge is power. Once they understand ‘Oh, I am smart. My brain is just wired a little differently.’”

She remembers working with a student who incited her curiosity about dyslexia. “When we look at successful business people across the world, a lot of them are dyslexic. It’s that creative mind that is going to serve those kids well one day, but in school they don’t fit into a traditional box,” Denise said. “I tell my students that we are all created differently, and God created your brain to do something amazing.”

Denise has two Spartans of her own, recent grad Sloan Pruitt and daughter Anna Kate, both of which were in the K6 class. She credits the class as a major support and stepping stone in their own academic journeys. Pruitt, now a freshman at Georgia Tech, was a National Merit Commended Scholar, a lacrosse Academic All-American, and remains an avid reader. Anna Kate, a junior, is incredibly involved as a competition cheerleader, active on the yearbook staff, and a peer leader in the 12 Stones Church Youth Group.

They, and many of their peers from the K6 class, have proven to be leaders--living examples of the long-term benefits of the optional class firsthand. Students in these classes have a high chance of becoming peer-leaders, strong readers, and mature thinkers. Denise said, “Majority of parents say, ‘I didn’t put my child in that class, but I really wish I had.’” When the year is used productively to address learning challenges or to advance good readers to incredible readers or to grasp those certain concepts or whatever it is that you need--children come out stronger.