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Kootstra Earns Cortopassi Award
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Honored for excellence in teaching, Escalon High School science teacher Kayla Kootstra, right, looks over the work being done by students in class recently. She received the 2013 Cortopassi Family Foundation Excellence in Teaching Science Award, earning $5,000 for the school and $5,000 for herself. Marg Jackson/The Times

With the presentation of an oversized check – worth $5,000 – Escalon High School teacher Kayla Kootstra is this year’s recipient of the Cortopassi Family Foundation Award.

The award recognizes excellence in teaching and Kootstra was nominated by EHS Principal Dave Lattig.

“I think my initial reaction was shock that I had won,” Kootstra admitted. “There are so many great teachers out there, that it really is just an honor to receive this award. It also validates that the time and energy I put in to doing my job does make a difference.”

Kootstra said while she doesn’t necessarily “need an award to know that,” being chosen for the honor helps her confirm that she is “working in the right direction and hopefully making a difference in the lives of the students” she works with on a daily basis.

Representatives from the Cortopassi Family Foundation were in Escalon recently to present the award, which not only includes the $5,000 for Kootstra personally but an additional $5,000 for the school’s science department.

Principal Lattig and District Superintendent Ron Costa were also on hand for the awards presentation, as were some fellow teachers. Along with teaching science classes, Kootstra has coached volleyball and currently serves as advisor for the PIT, Peer Interaction Team, at EHS. Through that program, high school students serve as mentors for younger students, working with kids at both Dent Elementary and El Portal Middle School campuses.

Science Department chair Gary Ball said the district will lose a valuable resource next year, as Kootstra is leaving to focus on her family.

“When it comes to Kayla these days I feel sorry for myself because I know there is no way we will be able to replace her next year with anyone close to her abilities,” Ball said. “She is just a joy to work with and will do anything that needs to be done for the students at EHS.”

Fellow teacher Sue Gentry, herself a recipient of the same award a few years ago, said the honor couldn’t have gone to a better person this year.

“Kayla is a true asset here at Escalon High School. Her enthusiasm for teaching is extraordinary. She is constantly looking for new ways to meet her student’s needs which is evident by their success,” noted Gentry. “Beyond the science curriculum, Kayla has a true desire to get to know each student evident by her various associations from coaching to advisory roles. She is an excellent role model for our youth. Her remarkable work ethic combined with the high expectations she sets for herself, set her apart from many others.

“Lucky for me, I have the pleasure of working with her on a daily basis”

Honored and humbled, Kootstra said she is looking forward to putting together a ‘wish list’ for the science department with the other teachers, with an eye toward spending the $5,000 awarded to the school on items for Advanced Placement science programs. She also said it’s gratifying to be recognized for something you love doing.

“Ultimately, that’s why I do this job and why I love teaching, because I have the opportunity to impact the students around me. I want to be someone who teaches them science, yes, but more than that, teaches them to believe in themselves and that hard work pays off,” Kootstra explained. “Ultimately I think that’s what the Cortopassi Family Foundation was looking for, someone who went above and beyond to impact their students in a positive way and that’s why it means so much to me that they selected me for the award.”

The teacher also said she is indebted to those who support and guide her, specifically Ball and Gentry.

“Without those two supporting me and working with me every day, I would not be the teacher I am,” Kootstra said. “Both Sue and Gary take such pride in their work and truly care about each student and it motivates me to do the same and continue to grow and get better each day.”

The monetary award for Kootstra comes with a caveat from the foundation; it has to be used for herself, not for the school or her students. She said it likely will go to help pay for an addition they are building at their home.

“My husband and I are actually in the process of adding on to our house. With three girls running around, their ‘stuff’ seems to be taking over these days,” she said.

The money will help with that expansion so there is more room for ‘stuff’ – more room to keep it organized.

“Not super fun or exciting, but something we need at this point in our lives,” Kootstra said.

The Cortopassi Family Foundation Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching Award is presented in cooperation with the San Joaquin County Office of Education.