Uniontown teacher makes the grade

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Each school year, Uniontown Area High School teacher Rebecca Ritenour makes it her mission to find new ways to connect with her students. She is part of a growing educational movement to make students of all ages and skill levels excited about learning.

“I'm not just passionate about what I teach, I'm passionate about who I teach,” Ritenour said. “I want to form a relationship with my students so they will want to learn, because it's me they are learning from.”

A National Board Certified teacher, Ritenour has a bachelor's degree in English education and a master's in English literature, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“I love school so much, I never left. I'll still be in school 20 years from now. I teach, not to make students love my subject, but so they can learn the basic skills necessary for them to be successful in life,” Ritenour said.

Ritenour teaches AP English 12 and other courses at Uniontown. She also works with ninth-grade teachers to plan the school's Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTII) lessons, which focuses on students' specific skill sets and learning needs.

“I'll do whatever it takes to get my point across in the classroom,” Ritenour said. “I treat my students the way I want to be treated. I respect them, and I think that makes a difference.”

Her hard work paid off, as she was one of less than 200 teachers chosen from more than 3,200 applicants nationwide to attend the third annual TeachFest conference May 2-5 in San Francisco.

“The best part of the trip was meeting other teachers who care as much as I do. They, too, want to make a difference for their students,” Ritenour said.

Following a rigorous application process, Ritenour became one of only 29 National Board Certified teachers to make the trip, completely funded by LearnZillion.org.

Eric Westendorf and Alix Guerrier founded the organization with the intent of making learning more individualized and accessible to students, parents and educators through “screencasts.”

The interactive slide show presentations with voice-over features — created entirely by Ritenour and a network of other teachers — bring the classroom to the home and make learning specific concepts easier for students. They also allow educators to see how their peers teach various lessons.

“Not everyone learns the same way. The ‘screencasts' use as few words as possible to explain complicated ideas, because students respond more to images than text,” Ritenour said.

TeachFest participants had the opportunity to work in groups with other educators who teach the same grades and subjects to create several “screencasts” for the organization. Ritenour also enjoyed several social events during the trip, such as a cocktail party, dance and a trivia night.

“The purpose of TeachFest was to remind us why we teach,” Ritenour said. “It also let us form relationships in the teaching community.”

One of the trip's most inspiring moments for Ritenour was during a viewing of the independent film, “Caine's Arcade.” They met the film's creator and its stars at TeachFest.

“The film demonstrated the impact one person can make in the life of a child,” Ritenour said. “The room was full of crying adults when the film ended, because it showed us what we, as educators, can do if we take the time to relate to our students.”

When the school year ends, Ritenour will continue working through the summer with her TeachFest group members to create more LearnZillion materials. She credits her students for her motivation.

“I'd put Uniontown High School's students up against anyone, and they would hold their own,” Ritenour said. “I want to be a role model for them, so they realize you can come from anywhere and still receive a good education.”

LearnZillion requires teachers to reapply for TeachFest each year. Ritenour intends to continue to do so, in order to improve learning experiences for students across the country.

“Every child is gifted, regardless of their ZIP code or learning capabilities,” Ritenour said. “It's all about finding out what works for them.”

For more information about TeachFest, visit www.LearnZillion.org.

Kaylie Harper is a freelance writer.

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