First-year Lawrence teachers recognized for exemplary service

Berenice Weisel, therapeutic classroom teacher at Southwest Middle School, and Brandon Daley, a fifth-grade teacher a Woodlawn Elementary, receive Horizon Awards at a Kansas State Department of Education ceremony Friday in Topeka recognizing exemplary first-year teachers.

Although they decided to become teachers at very different times in their lives, this year’s Lawrence school district Horizon Award winners say the joy they get from their jobs proves they made the right career choice.

Brandon Daley, a Woodlawn Elementary School fifth-grade teacher, and Berenice Weisel, a secondary therapeutic classroom teacher at Southwest Middle School, were recognized Friday at a Kansas State Department of Education conference in Topeka as the Lawrence district’s exemplary first-year teachers for the 2016-2017 school year. The district annually selects an elementary and secondary teacher for the honor, which is called the Horizon Award.

Daley said he never considered a teaching career while in high school in Wichita or while earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas. That career path opened to him after he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from KU. Once he graduated, he started working with the Boys and Girls Club at Langston Hughes Elementary School and as a paraeducator at Kennedy Elementary School.

Others at the schools noticed he was good with children and encouraged him to consider teaching, Daley said. It was advice he was more than willing to consider because of the joy he got from the work and the desire to build the kinds of relationships with students that he witnessed teachers developing.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to get a piece of that pie. That’s something I could do every day of my life and never have to work,'” he said.

He was able to live in Lawrence while earning his teaching degree through an online program at Fort Hays State University. After wrapping up his degree requirements with a student teaching assignment at Sunflower Elementary in Lawrence, he applied to teach in the district, Daley said.

“I’m originally from Wichita, so I would have been OK with going there,” he said. “But my wife is a teacher in the Shawnee Heights district. So I was happy to get on at Woodlawn Elementary right away.”

Weisel said the dedication she witnessed among her elementary school teachers in Phoenix convinced her to become a teacher. Her classroom education was in Spanish until she was enrolled in the fifth grade in a bilingual classroom, which switched quarterly from Spanish to English.

“It was complete immersion of English or Spanish on a quarterly basis,” she said. “I was really inspired in how dedicated the teachers were preparing for the switches and how they took the time to make sure we were successful in the classroom. So way back then, I knew I wanted to be a teacher just like them.”

Weisel earned her bachelor’s degree from KU and master’s from Pittsburg State University in special education, working as a district paraeducator while taking graduate courses online.

As a therapeutic teacher, Weisel works at Southwest Middle School with a Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center therapist to provide classroom support for special education students.

“The Bert Nash therapist works with students on social and emotional issues, and I focus on their academic and classroom side,” she said. “It’s beneficial to the students, who have the opportunity to be in the classroom rather than at Bert Nash or in a restricted classroom.”

As Horizon Award winners, Daley and Weisel received checks for $250 from Truity Credit Union of Lawrence. Daley received another $500 from the Ogden Foundation for being the highest-scoring Horizon Award nominee in Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District.

Friday’s Horizon Award ceremony was the second for the Daley family. His wife, Jeni Daley, was a Horizon Award winner at Shawnee Heights a year ago, Daley said.

Weisel said she briefly considered moving to administration when she finished her master’s degree but decided she wanted to stay in the classroom doing the work she loved. Daley said he was still weighing future options.

“I was speaking to my principal last week about starting my master’s degree,” he said. “I think I may have an interest in working in administration outside the classroom or as a principal. The great thing is I have time to think about that while I’m doing what I truly love right now.”