May 17 is National Graduation Tassel Day and POE celebrates Oklahoma’s graduating seniors, as well as the many sponsors like Arletta Stewart who help coordinate graduation and baccalaureate ceremonies.
For the past 10 years, Mrs. Stewart has been making sure the seniors at Cache High School experience a memorable graduation.
“I love watching the students graduate, but a lot of work happens behind the scenes to ensure things run smoothly,” Mrs. Stewart said. “I am the liaison between the students and Jostens for their caps, gowns and announcements. I help with the programs and make sure each student has the correct symbols for their awards. I also double check the senior panel to match up each student’s name with their respective photograph.
“And don’t forget practice,” Mrs. Stewart said. “We practice for both processions.”
Mrs. Stewart considers it a source of pride to have so many graduations under her belt, despite working evenings and weekends on these special events. “I want them to get the recognition they deserve,” she said.
Speaking of recognition, the faculty at Cache High School recently surprised Mrs. Stewart with a shadow box of the tassels she has collected throughout the years. 2022 marks her 11th year as a graduation sponsor so she’ll soon be making room in her shadow box for tassel No. 11.
Known as Momma Stu among many of Cache’s 133 graduating seniors, she’ll tell you she is blessed to be a teacher and graduation sponsor. She finds teaching to be an incredibly fulfilling career. However, she has not always enjoyed going to work.
Mrs. Stewart obtained her law degree from the University of Oklahoma Law School, and began her career as a lawyer. She loves the study of law and taught business law as an adjunct professor, but doesn’t love the practice of law.
The lawyer turned teacher became alternatively certified in 2006. During her 16 years in education, she has taught U.S. history, mythology and world history. She has served as the curriculum team leader for the social studies department, served as history club sponsor, coached the academic team, and was the gift and talented sponsor.
Sixteen years, 1,600 students and maybe 200 recommendation letters later, Mrs. Stewart said she can see the difference she’s made. When a student doesn’t like school, she’ll encourage them to attend a competition where she believes they will excel. Before they know it, the student places in the competition. This gives them an extra boost to do well in school.
“I love to teach,” Mrs. Stewart said. “I am so much happier teaching that I don’t want to ever go back to practicing law. “When students ask me why I went into teaching I say, ‘I’d rather make a difference in your life in the classroom than in the courtroom.’”
A Mom’s Desire to Spend Time with Children Leads to another Generation of Teachers
Twenty-five years ago Cindy Chuculate made a decision to leave the business world and enter the field of education. Her insurance career consumed her life and left little time to spend with her children.
She’s the first to tell anyone that switching careers to become a teacher was one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
Math was Mrs. Chuculate’s strong suit and upon graduating from Northeastern State University she become an adjuster. For nine years, she worked long hours in the insurance industry.
“As an insurance adjuster, I had quite a few counties to cover in my territory in Northeast Oklahoma. If anything happened in one of my counties, I handled it. I was working night and day,” Mrs. Chuculate said. “I had a home office and my two little kids would always ask, ‘Mom, Are you working tonight again?’ And it just hit me. I needed a job that would allow me to have time with my children. I missed out on so many things at that time in their lives.”
With her math degree, Mrs. Chuculate already took several education courses. After investigating her options, she found out that it would only take her one semester of classes to obtain an education degree. She decided to go back to school. After graduating, she continued her studies to earn a master’s in Educational Leadership.
Mrs. Chuculate’s children weren’t the only driving force in her decision to become a teacher. Her grandmother was an educator and also tried to steer her in the same direction.
“My grandmother taught elementary school and always wanted me to teach, especially history. History was my least favorite subject so there’s no way that was going to happen,” Mrs. Chuculate said. “However, one of my best friends talked about how my grandmother had a positive influence on her. I thought if my grandmother really made a good influence on one of my best friends then maybe I could make a good influence on children too.
“Teaching was perfect for me. My son just started kindergarten and my daughter was seven when I became a high school teacher,” she said. “I was able to be off every time they were out of school so I could take care of them. I could go to everything that they were involved in at school and hardly missed any activities.”
Originally hired at Jay High School, Mrs. Chuculate would have to drive about an hour to work from her hometown of Pryor. This would almost defeat the purpose of being able to spend time with her children. Fortunately, there was an opening at nearby Salina High School, but she didn’t want to go back on her word once she accepted the position at Jay.
“I gave my word to the Superintendent at Jay and committed to teaching there so I didn’t think too much of the job in Salina,” she said. “The Superintendent was a family friend and knew about the job in Salina. He visited with the Principal in Salina and they decided that Salina High School would be a better place for me. I knew right off the bat that I made a great decision coming to Salina. The small-town atmosphere has been unbelievably positive for me. I became a single parent when my kids were in first and third grade, and the community helped raise my kids. My kids would be in the gym running around while I was coaching, and everybody knew not to let them go outside.”
Mrs. Chuculate has had a successful career at Salina, teaching Geometry and Algebra II the majority of her career. She also coached slow pitch and fast pitch softball, volleyball and basketball. During the last eight years, she’s taught a computer class and Microsoft Office. She also oversees the newspaper, broadcasting and the yearbook.
“I have 10 students in the newspaper class; one is a senior and the rest are juniors. They’re really a delight to have in class. From senior class profiles to interviewing coaches and taking photographs, the students are involved in sharing the news of the school.”
After all these years, Mrs. Chuculate still loves teaching.
“My message would be to do something that you love because money isn’t everything,” she said. “I found out I really have a passion for teaching.”
That passion for teaching has flowed over to her children as both of them are now teachers and coaches. At one point, all three members of the family were teaching at Salina High School in adjacent rooms.
“My daughter Chali Kingfisher is a math teacher and a cheer coach at Salina. My son Ty Thompson is a history teacher. He now coaches football and basketball at Vinita High School. I tried to get them to go a different route. I’m not sure why, but at the time I wasn’t making a lot of money and I was a single mother. Despite our struggles, we made it with a lot of answered prayers from God. I think He just provided for us.”
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Mrs. Kingfisher loves teaching just about as much as her mom. “It was like teaching was embedded in us. I love math and I know that I love helping people. That’s why I wanted to come back to where I graduated and help the community. I saw mom’s love for the subject and that made me fall in love with it even more so.”
Mr. Thompson agreed with his sister about their mom, “I wanted to become a teacher because many of my greatest influences in life were teachers and coaches. My mom was a teacher so I was around other teachers all the time. I saw the impact and difference that she, as well as the others, made on students’ lives and I wanted to have that same impact on young peoples’ lives. Seeing mom’s former students coming up to talk to her, saying how grateful they were to have been taught by her is just awesome to see.”
Inspired to become a teacher by her grandmother, Mrs. Chuculate is pleased to pass the family’s education legacy onto her children. “I know my grandma is happy looking down from heaven seeing her granddaughter and great grandchildren serve as teachers.”
Andrea Magness, Tech Ed teacher at Shattuck High School, was inspired during Covid to start a project in her class called Yard Cards to deliver messages to the community. Four senior girls in her yearbook class took on the project and it has been wildly successful. Signs have been requested for team sports, welcome back to school and holidays. “It’s so rewarding to see the students work in class and have fun while working,” she said. Watch more of Mrs. Magness’ story.
On Tuesday, Sept. 15, POE takes a behind the curtain view of what education looks like in 2020
Depending on where you live in Oklahoma, school has been in session anywhere from a week to a month. And on Tuesday, Sept. 15, POE is hosting “A Day in The Life of a Teacher” in which five teachers will help transport you, virtually, to their classrooms. Educators participating in “A Day in The Life of a Teacher” will share various aspects of their day from classroom layout to lunchtime to lesson planning, as well as anything else interesting they might experience.
These five teachers are members of Professional Oklahoma Educators and will share what their day looks like at school:
Jessica Dickinson – Capitol Hill High School; Virtual Jessica is a sophomore English teacher from Capitol Hill High School with Oklahoma City Public Schools. This is Jessica’s fifth year of teaching, all at Capitol Hill. Jessica is currently pursuing her Master’s in Learning Sciences degree from the University of Oklahoma.
Tonya Daniel – Bennington Public Schools; In Person Tonya is a special education teacher for grades 7-12 with Bennington Public Schools. She has taught English for 18 years. This is her third year in Special Education for a total of 21 years in the classroom. Tonya is teaching in person. She has been married to her husband David for seven years. They have a son, Phillip, and daughter-in-law, Ashley, along with two paw babies named Ariel and Shortcake.
Anthony Hutchinson – Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools; In Person Anthony teaches instrumental music (band) for students in grades 6-12. He also teaches K5 music. Mr. Hutchinson has taught in both private and public schools since receiving his Music Education degree from Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri in 1979. He has been in the Chouteau-Mazie School District the past 15 years and thoroughly enjoys working with administration, teachers, students and the community.
Anne Graham – Burlington Elementary School; In Person and Distance Learning Packets Anne is a 1st grade teacher at Burlington Elementary School, a very small, rural school with approximately 130 students in the entire district. She has nine students doing in-class/traditional learning and one student who participates in distance learning. This is Anne’s 12th year of teaching.
Tana Sylvester – Cyril Public Schools; In Person and Virtual Tana is a veteran teacher of 33 years, having taught kindergarten through sixth grade in her career. She taught at Sterling Public Schools for 26 years and has been at Cyril Public Schools for seven years, where she currently teaches Pre-K. She has a daughter and son, and four grandchildren.
“With the start of school changing weekly – whether in-person, virtual or hybrid – teachers participating in a focus group with Professional Oklahoma Educators wanted to show teachers as flexible, resilient individuals who love what they do,” said Ginger Tinney, executive director of Professional Oklahoma Educators. “The idea for chronicling educators throughout the day is a result of the teacher focus group wanting to show positive stories from the classroom.”
Chauvin Aaron, Associate Director of Fine Arts and Bands, Ardmore City Schools
Inspired by his Aunt Evelyn to never stop learning, Chauvin Aaron wanted to create music and share his knowledge with others. Teaching is the career that paved the way for him to do both. According to Chauvin, being a music teacher is a gateway to communicate with anyone, from all walks of life. As a teacher you can go change the world, and Chauvin has certainly impacted numerous lives of students, families and community members.