Topeka natives return to district as first-year teachers

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 8:28 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - First-year teachers within Topeka Public Schools are getting their classrooms prepped and ready for students.

Two of Jardine Elementary School’s newest teachers said they are eager to begin their careers in their hometown.

Gracie Ortega is a Washburn University graduate and will teach 2nd grade.

She said, “I’m excited for the kids to be in here and actually get to do stuff with them in person, instead of just being online.”

Hunter Wolfe, a graduate of Emporia State University, is also getting her classroom ready to welcome 4th-graders in just two weeks.

“I think I’m most excited to see their faces and get to know them and kind of hear their stories,” she added.

For Wolfe, becoming a teacher was always the plan.

“Ever since Kindergarten I actually wanted to be a teacher,” she continued saying, “When I first stepped in, I loved school and I loved my kindergarten teacher. Then throughout high school, it kind of changed a couple of times, but I always came back to working with kids and wanting to love on kids.”

Ortega took a different route. She started out studying political science in college but found her love for elementary education halfway across the world.

“I went on this school trip to Belize with the education department randomly and I just started talking to the woman in charge of the Elementary Education Program at Washburn and she kind of got me into it,” she said.

In their final semesters in college, Topeka Public Schools hired Ortega and Wolfe to remote teach, to allow for smaller class sizes at the height of the pandemic.

Ortega said, “I just had Zooms with the kids, sometimes we had drop-offs so I could see them a couple of times.”

“That was an interesting experience having 5th graders online and navigating a new role and a new job, while also being virtual,” Wolfe added.

However, that opportunity has now given the pair confidence ahead of the first day of school.

Wolfe said, “I’m really excited now to have kids in person and get to kind of experience a first-year, but also have some experience under my belt.”

Both women grew up in Topeka and said they wanted to teach in the district because of its diversity.

Ortega and Wolfe now hope to be positive role models in the community that shaped them.

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