Spotlight: Cathy Knauff, Klein Cain High School

Ms. Knauff is the CTE teacher at Klein Cain High School, and in addition to teaching video game design, engineering, and electronics, she is also the credit recovery coordinator. She is the co-sponsor for the National Honor Society, the Class of 2021, and is on the Board at Klein High for Swim & Dive. Being the dedicated educator that she is, she ensures that her current, past, or any student that needs her assistance is taken care of. As a demonstration of her kindness, she takes time out of her already busy day to offer counseling to those who need guidance or just someone to listen to them.

Ms. Knauff is not only a dedicated teacher but also a kind and thoughtful one that spends her own money to purchase snacks and water to keep in her classroom for her students. She is the teacher that students go to for help and will do everything in her power to assist in whichever way she can. When her students have specific questions regarding college, post-college questions, or need help with their course selection, she is always there to help them. One student said,” She has taught me more about life [in the sense of teaching me about] balancing my money, investing in the stock market, giving to those less fortunate, having a good credit score, helping me with recommendations for college/work and ideas on volunteer opportunities.” 

Her compassionate and benevolent ways are demonstrated in the way she leads the “Klein Cain Family Serves” a project that allows students within the district the opportunity to give back to the community that continuously supports their schools by working together on different service projects. She spends much of her “extra” time coordinating with various places and researching volunteer opportunities for students, so that kids from all grade levels, kindergarten through twelfth, can all have the experience of what it is like to give back to those less fortunate than themselves.

She knows that some students struggle, especially in high school and that sometimes the students that are considered “difficult” are the ones that require the most guidance. She builds relationships with these students and makes sure they know someone cares and values them. Additionally, she works closely with the counselors on campus to help students with their credit recovery. She wants her students to be successful, and she sets expectations and goals to get them on the path to graduation. She helps students with finding vocational jobs or certifications after high school knowing that college is not for everyone. She makes learning engineering fun for her students through her innovative teaching ways. She challenges her engineering students and sparks their creativity by allowing them to work on projects such as designing paper airplanes, paper roller coasters, Lego people, balloon cars, and so much more. She was nominated for a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science; however, it was unfortunate when she had to drop out of the process due to a significant amount of damage to her home and her husband being ill. It is very apparent that Ms. Knauff does so much for her students and is deserving of this recognition for being a kind, compassionate, and selfless educator. It takes someone as special as her to shape young minds and lead them to believe that they can achieve great things.

Spotlight: Terri Pitts, Colonial Hills Elementary

Ms. Pitts is the P.E. Teacher at Colonial Hills Elementary in North East ISD. Her colleagues know her as a resilient and dedicated teacher that goes above and beyond for her students. In addition to not missing a day of school, she is also a team player and is always helping and finding ways to make her campus and community better. If she is not busy on campus or with virtual teaching, she makes it a point to be there for students that may need a little extra help.

As a physical education teacher, she makes it a priority to teach healthy habits and motivate her students to be lifelong movers. Additionally, she is passionate about teaching them lifetime wellness skills. As an innovative teacher, she excels at finding lessons that her students enjoy while meeting the National Association for Sport and Physical Education National Standards and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Aware that children do not all learn the same, she varies her lessons to make them engage and to be inclusive of all learning styles. She uses visual and auditory instructions during her lesson explanations and will provide multiple opportunities and modifications because all she wants is to see her students succeed. The relationship Ms. Pitts has built between her students and their parents is superior and it is an evident demonstration of her character as she receives a great amount of support towards her PE program. She serves as a great role model for all through her healthy lifestyle of incorporating healthy eating habits and daily exercise. One of her colleagues said it best: “Terri, like most outstanding physical education teachers, is great at integrating other subject matters into her classroom; however, her incomparable gift to influence others to do the same with her subject matter places Terri above the rest.”

Like most incessant educators, she is always exploring new ways to improve the overall quality of her classes and P.E. programs. She attends various staff development sessions at both local and state levels and serves on local committees involved in improving the health and fitness of her community. Her tenaciousness is evident through her actions as she is always in pursuit of bringing recognition and funding to her campus. She is relentless in pursuing grants for Colonial Hill’s Elementary community garden and for their physical education program.

She maintains a positive and respectful relationship with her colleagues and administrators, and is viewed by them as someone whose life is ambition is to improve the life of her students. During her tenure at Colonial Hills Elementary, she’s had a momentous impact on the entire campus by implementing coordinated school health, gardening partnership with her campus school nutrition department, and bringing other community partnerships to the campus. Examples are; community garden, a Kids School Health Advisory Council, and an Action Based Learning Lab. Her ability to influence others to support her vision is part of what makes her an outstanding teacher.

Ms. Pitts is clearly a phenomenal teacher that will do everything she can to help her students, campus, and community. She is the epitome of what a great role model and mentor should be and does not confine herself to the walls of her classroom, but rather allows her positive morale to radiate wherever she goes. Her passion for the teaching profession is unrelenting and one that should be acknowledged as exemplary.

Spotlight: Arlevia Davis, Legacy High School

Mrs. Davis is a freshman biology teacher at Legacy High School in Mansfield ISD. Her colleagues, students, formers students, and those that know her would describe her as the teacher that sparks life in her classroom and teaching ways. Her energy is contagious, and her students enjoy learning and being in her class. She spends countless hours creating lesson plans for her students that are both engaging and interactive. Her students not only learn the material that they are being taught, but they also have fun during her lessons.

Mrs. Davis is an innovative educator and goes out of her way to ensure that her students learn and succeed in everything they do. Her primary focus goes beyond testing, and she encourages and challenges her students with thought-provoking projects or assignments. She is the type of educator that mentors her students and prepares them for all of life’s challenges both in school and out. She rewards her students not only when they get the correct answers, but also when she knows that they are putting forth their best effort, allowing them to gain confidence in both themselves and the subject.

Mrs. Davis’s dedication and love for teaching go beyond her classroom walls. To aid her students’ learning she created a YouTube channel to upload videos, in return, it has also allowed her to connect with other educators and students all over the world. Now known as “Sciyonce” her channel has gained popularity and she has over 1K subscribers. In her videos, she uses songs that are popular and well-known and changes the lyrics to correlate with the new material they are learning in class. One example is a song that she transformed into “Life, life, baby…”. She has rewritten over 25 songs into biology tunes to help her students connect to the subject and learn in a different and unique way. Her students and everyone that is interested can view her videos and learn from them. Additionally, she offers study guides, tips on how to form beneficial study habits, and the science behind teaching and physical movements. She also performs for her students live in her classroom.

In addition to Mrs. Davis being an exceptional Biology teacher, she is also a mentor for future educators. She enables them to be the next generation of great teachers, by treating them as partners and sharing the classroom with them. She guides them and provides them with the resources they need to succeed in the classroom. Her enthusiasm and passion for teaching truly radiate when she mentors these young students and helps mold them to be wonderful educators.

The last school year was a difficult year for most students and teachers. They were all facing so many uncertainties and feeling all the effects that the pandemic brought. However, Mrs. Davis never allowed this to dim her light and continued to be the amazing teacher she is. Despite all the obstacles teachers were faced with, she viewed virtual teaching as an opportunity for professional and personal growth. She remained in contact with her students and was always available to help them with whatever they need. Several students would describe her as a kind and compassionate teacher, one that offers them support, listens, laughs, and shares equally with them on their good and bad days. Mrs. Davis is truly a great educator that deserves so much recognition for everything that she does.

Spotlight: Margaret Olivarez, Copperfield Elementary

Mrs. Olivarez is a 3rd-grade teacher at Copperfield Elementary. During her time in Pflugerville ISD, She has demonstrated time after time that she is a dedicated educator. She is continuously evoking new ideas that allow her students, not just in her classroom, but overall campus, to go after their dreams and achieve them. Most recently her College T-shirt initiative gained great traction within her community, that eventually it received national attention. In efforts to teach students on her campus about colleges and universities, she encouraged students to wear college t-shirts. However, to her dismay, she came to the realization that many students did not own these t-shirts, nor did they the resources to obtain one.  It then became her mission to provide all students with a shirt to wear. She reached out to colleges, universities, technical schools, and all military branches in search of t-shirt donations. Before she knew it, donations from all over the country started coming in, and every student was able to own a t-shirt. In addition to this new shirt, they also gained the knowledge and understanding that pursuing an education after high school is an achievable goal.

Being an educator at a school labeled as a Title one campus, Mrs. Olivarez knows many of her students come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. As most felt the effects and hardships that came with the pandemic, she saw firsthand how it was inhibiting many of her students from being successful. Once again, she was relentless in her efforts to ensure that the students on her campus were given the technological resources they needed to perform at their fullest potential. She spent her summer sending emails and making phone calls in an attempt to make this happen. Her unwavering support and determination to help her students allowed her to receive 100 Chrome books, Fire tablets, and $30K in monetary donations.

Another noted project that demonstrates Mrs. Olivarez’s benevolence and the way she cares for her students was her back-to-school backpack program. She set a goal to ensure that each student on her campus had a new backpack come the new school year. She stopped at no end until she achieved that. Knowing that most of the students on her campus come from low-income families, and the cost that back-to-school preparation can impose on these families, she made it a goal of hers to help them out. She wanted these students to be excited about going back to school and knew this small gesture would do that for them. Her determination to make this happen once again depicts what an amazing person and teacher Mrs. Olivarez is. She is persistent in her objective to help as much as she can and no goal of hers is ever unachievable.  For these reasons and more she deserves all the recognition for being such a kind and selfish educator.

Gulf Coast Educators FCU’s 2021 Appreciated Teacher of the Year!

Mr. Akash Patel- Dallas ISD

This year we received 1,300 nominations from over 167 different school districts across the state of Texas. Among all the nominations Mr. Patel’s made it to the top five, ultimately winning him the title of GCEFCU’s Appreciated Teacher of the Year, with a total of 1,187 votes!

Mr. Patel is the Spanish/World Languages/LPAC Chair at Ignite Middle School. He was selected by our committee for his distinguished accomplishments. He is a well-traveled Spanish teacher that has visited over 50 Countries and speaks a total of five languages, very impressive! As an educator that teaches at a Title 1 ACE, 100% low socioeconomic middle school, he works with students that come from challenging backgrounds and most have never traveled outside of the country. However, through his travel and life experiences, Mr. Patel has been able to enhance his teaching methods and provide valuable content for his students when designing his lesson plans.

In his first year as a teacher, he was recognized by the State Department of Education and the Multicultural Education Institute as the January 2015 Educator of the Month and the 2015 Multicultural Teacher of the Year. This recognition was earned by Mr. Patel for his achievement in promoting global citizenship and accomplishing a successful academic turnaround. Not only this but he was also inducted in the International Literacy Association’s 30 Under 30 list and was previously selected as one of the World’s Top 50 Teachers and shortlisted as a finalist for the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. Additionally, last June, Mr. Patel was elected to serve the 2020-2022 term on the National Council of the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA).

Mr. Patel’s passion to be able to connect his classrooms with people and professionals worldwide is evident in his accomplishments. What started off through social media and virtual platforms later transformed Mr. Patel to become the founder of Happy World Foundation, a Texas-based global education non-profit. This organization promotes global citizenship education, citizen-to-citizen diplomacy, and cross-cultural understanding in schools and communities worldwide.

Mr. Patel strives to be an exceptional teacher and serves as a mentor to both his students and colleagues. He speaks at regional, national, and international conferences on his classroom experience, and has also trained over 40K educators to use the Global Connect database and other multicultural programs. Thanks to Mr. Patel’s accomplishment and through Happy World Foundation’s global education programs, thousands of American children travel to countries worldwide. Please help us in congratulating Mr. Patel for this outstanding achievement and going above and beyond what is required in the classroom to provide these resources for his students.

Cast your vote – 2021 Appreciated Teacher Awards

As a teacher’s credit union, one of the many ways we demonstrate our support and gratitude for educators is through our Appreciated Teacher Awards. This is a recognition program that commends outstanding teachers within our field of membership, which now includes all districts and accredited schools in Texas. For our 2021 Appreciated Teacher Awards, we received 1,300 nominations from over 167 different school districts across the state of Texas. A committee composed of credit union management team members selected five finalists from all the nominations received.

We are asking the public to please help us select our 2021 Appreciated Teacher of the Year. You can cast your vote by clicking the button below and submitting the online form before May 8, 2021. The finalist with the most votes will be awarded the title of Gulf Coast Educators Federal Credit Union’s 2021 Appreciated Teacher of the Year and receive a $2,500 grand prize. The remaining finalists will receive a $500 honorarium. The 2021 Appreciated Teacher of the Year will be announced the week of May 17, 2021.

2021 Appreciated Teacher Awards

We Love Teachers. We would not be who we are without them.

As a teacher’s credit union, one of the many ways we demonstrate our support and gratitude for educators is through our Appreciated Teacher Awards. This is a recognition program that commends outstanding teachers within our field of membership, which now includes all districts and accredited schools in Texas.

A committee composed of credit union employees will select five finalists from all the nominations accepted to each receive an honorarium of $500, and be eligible for our 2021 Appreciated Teacher of the Year award. The finalists will be announced during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 3-7), at which time the public may submit their vote for Appreciated Teacher of the Year. The finalist with the most votes will be announced and win a $2,500 grand prize.

We are looking for nominees that go above and beyond both in and out of the classroom. Educators that are resilient and exude confidence into their students’ lives and entice them to want to learn with their unique teaching styles. If you know of a deserving educator, we encourage you to nominate them by clicking the button below. The deadline to nominate someone is April 18, 2021.


Spotlight: Yoon Kim, McNeill Elementary

Mr. Yoon Kim is Kindergarten teacher at McNeill.  Mr. Kim is known for not letting his students move along to the next grades without keeping contact with them. He keeps up with his students by creating after-school clubs to continue working with them throughout their school years. This year, he began teaching his entire class for two hours after school in all subjects; just for the enjoyment of watching their skills continuously flourish. In his after-school club, he teaches art and drama that helps foster each student’s individual strengths.  He has also created an additional club for fourth and fifth grade students, meeting twice a week, for two hours each time. This club is a Media, Cinema, and Arts Club, where he teaches his students all aspects of: screenwriting, storyboards, camera, lighting, sound production, and acting.  The club’s last movie, which reflected student voices and their viewpoints of the world around them, was recently recognized at a school district board meeting.

Additionally, Mr. Kim records videos and creates photographs for social media for his campus.  Annually, he creates hundreds of 5th grade professional student portraits and gives them as gifts for the departing 5th graders. He also creates beautiful, professional portraits of his kindergarten students every year. All his projects are gifts for his students. He has created many innovative activities, including a poetry contest for the entire school to participate in. What has made Mr. Kim more deserving of this honor, is that he has continued to meet with his clubs virtually throughout this pandemic, while simultaneously continuing to teach his kindergarten class. He is a teacher that does not allow obstacles get in his way of teaching.

Mr. Kim was also the recipient of a grant that was used to purchase sound recording equipment. This allowed him to initiate the first podcasting club in the district. His fifth-grade podcasting students had begun working on a competition to enter a national podcasting event before the crisis. His students committed many hours of work into this contest, including research and practice on how to use the equipment. Their competition was interrupted because of the pandemic, but Mr. Kim continued to meet with them virtually twice a week. The students were successful in creating their very first quality podcast and were able to submit it by the original deadline proposed.

In addition, Mr. Kim also creates video projects for the entire district that share information within the schools’ communities. Last year, he was able to document a truly innovative district program that incorporated technology, music, art, and core subjects in a camp-like atmosphere. It took place during the summer and was an inclusive learning opportunity for both parents and students.  His videos created much excitement for both teachers and families to participate in this program.

Spotlight: Kristopher Petree, Kruse Elementary

Kristopher Petree is the science lab teacher at Kruse Elementary in Pasadena ISD. His peers describe him as someone who genuinely helps everyone he encounters. He builds relationships with all students at his school and goes out of his way to help teachers and administration with any technology issues they may have.  

Since the district’s focus moved over to distance learning, he took his helpfulness to a higher level, one of amazement.  Mr. Petree began by organizing Chromebooks for every teacher and instructional paraprofessional to take home to be able to maintain contact with fellow peers and students during the Stay-At-Home order.  More importantly, he did the same for students. He helped students enroll in personalized learning classrooms and secured Chromebooks so each one could continue the educational path with limited interruptions. He also organized Chromebooks for students who did not have access, but that he knew could benefit greatly by having technology support at home. 

Not only did he help with putting devices in the right hands, Mr. Petree also responded to a multitude of emails and phone calls from parents and students to setup programs and applications used for instruction. He did this for the entire Kruse student body, regardless if the devices belonged to the school district or were personal family property.  Mr. Petree continues to provide this support all hours of the day and night, whenever is most convenient for parents and students.

Mr. Petree has not stopped with his support for the school community as the pandemic continues. He has spent countless hours creating a variety of YouTube videos with step by step instructions for understanding applications and troubleshooting for staff, students, and parents at Kruse Elementary. Currently, these videos have been viewed more than 2,200 times. Furthermore, he shared these videos with the school district and other campuses. His YouTube videos have influenced other campuses to create their own campus specific videos.  These videos have also provided helpful instructions for parents to ease their access to all applications within a single sign on platform.  This allows parents to log in once to gain all information, eliminating the need for teachers to send multiple emails to parents.

We know that many people rise to the occasion in a time of need; however, Mr. Petree has contributed beyond measure to continuously provide invaluable assistance for the Kruse Elementary school community and all of Pasadena ISD throughout these unprecedented times. One might say that he came to the rescue of others.  Truly, there is no way to quantify the impact of his support. 

One of his peers said it best, “Without his knowledge, dedication, care, and commitment, our school family would have not been able to move forward with such ease and consistency. “

Spotlight: Christina Hartsfield, Texas City High School

Christina Hartsfield is a teacher at Texas City High School in Texas City ISD and teaches a career tech course based on education.  It is a course designed to inspire students to become the next wave of teachers.  Over the past few years, she has had to develop the course and its lesson plans from scratch. Each year she must personally recruit students into her program, as well as fellow teachers to become mentors. Each student not only receives instructions in class, but they also spend a class period at one of the local elementary schools as teacher assistants.  This requires the coordination of getting transportation, managing student/teacher schedules, and traveling to each class to observe the student. This has provided her students with a job experience in a classroom and the ability to see their lessons in an actual working environment.

Additionally, Ms. Hartsfield has the students involved in T.A.F.E. (Texas Association of Future Educators).  This entails Regional, State, and National competitions.  She takes students to workshops, trainings, and spends many late nights at the school assisting students with their projects.  Within her T.A.F.E. region, she has served as the Regional President and Vice President not once, but twice.  This is a volunteer organization that brings students with an interest in education together and helps fortify an education focus. Over the last two years she has also been invited out to several conferences to teach seminars. Ms. Hartsfield also encourages her students to volunteer in the community, taking them to local food banks, charities, and local shelters. The hours spent on these projects, as well as in T.A.F.E., are all voluntary. 

Ms. Hartsfield has a passion to see her students become the next great generation of teachers.  She dedicates much of her free time to seeing them succeed.  One of her peers went on to say “I have watched her develop close bonds with her students, mentor them when seeking further education, and go out of her way to see each student succeed even after high school.”