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Sonya Vandermolen is new to Tucson but not new to teaching. Vandermolen teaches fifth grade at Erickson Elementary. The Arizona native spent nearly a decade in front of the class in Phoenix before she moved to the Old Pueblo.

She says reflecting on her strengths led her to teaching. Family ties and an especially memorable moment also inspired her.

“When I was in fifth grade, my teacher was Miss Davis,” she recalls. One day when her grandparents dropped her at school, her teacher asked Vandermolen, “Who is your grandma?” When she answered, the teacher started to cry.

After fretting that she had done something wrong, Vandermolen learned why her teacher had become so emotional. “She was my teacher when I was a kid,” Davis explained to Vandermolen. Those long-ago tears left a lasting impression.

“It stuck with me,” says Vandermolen, sharing an oft-repeated story and spurring her toward her career.

Vandermolen loved math and science when she was a kid, she says. These days, she loves to teach and explore history and social studies. She says her own changing interests help her urge students to keep an open mind. She uses a food analogy, too, and en- courages students to take a “no-thank-you bite.” 

Just as tastes change, your interests can change, she explains. So you never know what  you may discover if you read a book that you don’t think you will like or relate to. Vandermolen was nominated by students Theresa and Adam.

“She is great. I love my teacher,” writes Theresa. “She respects us and we respect her.”

Vandermolen says she works to create a culture of respect in her classroom. She says her students are a tight-knit group that “follow the expectations I have for them.”

Just as she tells her own kids (every day, until they roll their eyes, she says), she regularly reminds her

students to make good choices, or do the things that they “will be proud of first, and (their) family and other will be proud of, too.”

Teacher Fun Facts:

Hobbies: Riding horses, riding motorcycles, garden- ing or anything outside

Favorite Subject in School: Math

Favorite Class Times: “I love when we have guest speakers,” Vandermolen says. “It always turns out to be a good exchange and a great experience.” 

March 2017