MHS Welcomes New Gifted Teachers
Walking in on the first day of school, Brooke Davis, senior, knew something would be different this year.
It wasn’t the freshly painted parking lots – or even the filled-in Commons steps.
Rather, she knew that once she stepped into the Gifted Office, there would be two new teachers greeting her: Judi Willenbrink and Dr. Robin Lady.
Vicki Kemp and and Mary Parish, gifted resource teachers, both retired at the end of the last school year. Davis has known Kemp since eighth grade and Parish since freshman year. Davis said whenever she was having a bad day at school, she always knew she could head down to the Gifted Office.
“A lot of my high school experience was shaped by Mrs. Kemp and Mrs. Parish because I spent a lot of time in the gifted office and they were both so supportive,” Davis said. “It’s almost like having a familial figure at school that you can just go to.”
Davis had previously known Dr. Lady from Crestview Middle School in seventh grade. Davis said at Crestview, Dr. Lady was the teacher who really helped students to excel and motivated students to put all of their brain power into something to not just think creatively, but also with problem solving.
“Although it was more difficult at the time, I feel like that’s going to make her a good counselor because she really wants to motivate kids and has our best interests in mind,” Davis said.
At Crestview Middle School, Dr. Lady was an Academic Stretch teacher for 11 years. She has been in the classroom for 20 years – 16 of which have been in the gifted department.
Outside of teaching, Dr. Lady recently finished serving as president for the Gifted Association of Missouri. She has been passionate for the past 16 years about teaching gifted and providing students with the same opportunities to succeed as everyone else.
“When I started learning about gifted kids, I was totally hooked,” Dr. Lady said.
Not only does Dr. Lady hope she and Willenbrink can help students, but she also wants to be a partner with all of the staff and truly be a resource for both teachers and students.
Above all, Dr. Lady’s goal is to make sure that all kids are succeeding.
“If they’re having any stress or anxiety, we are here to help,” Dr. Lady said. “I’m just very excited to be here and it’s been very exciting to see kids that I taught several years ago all grown up.”
Before coming to MHS, Willenbrink worked for seven years on a research grant with the federal government to reduce the crime rate in the City of St. Louis through the Crime Commission, before working for seven additional years on heart research with the St. Louis University Medical School and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
After completing her work in research, Willenbrink decided to pursue her passion for teaching. She received her teaching degree and taught at Rockwood Summit, Eureka High, and the Center for Creative Learning.
“My brother and I were both tested during elementary school and put in the gifted program, so I was exposed to the program at a young age,” Willenbrink said. “I just decided I really wanted to pursue being a teacher.”One of Willenbrink’s main goals for this school year is to meet all the students in the gifted program. She also hopes to help students learn about ways to get involved in a big school where there are lots of different activities and groups.
“We want to help them in any way that we can, whether it be socially, emotionally, or academically,” Willenbrink said. “I’m excited for just getting to learn from the students – their interests and passions because I learn from them just as much as they hopefully can learn from me.”
Davis said it’s wonderful to have familiar faces in the Gifted Office, which she thinks will be beneficial for many students. Davis is also familiar with Willenbrink, whom she had as a teacher at the Center for Creative Learning.
“As soon as I went in the classroom in third grade, she was so sweet and almost nurturing to us elementary students,” Davis said. “One thing I’m really grateful for is that I feel like they do remember a lot of their students, which is pretty remarkable considering that they have hundreds of students each year and have been teaching for quite a while.”
Davis said she’s always excited when freshmen come into the gifted office for lunch or just to hang out. She wants the freshmen to see the gifted office in high school as definite resource they can use and not just a place where they are called in once every semester.
“Every single thing I did from being five years old to now, turning eighteen in a month, has been impacted by the gifted program and being a gifted kid in general,” Davis said. “Being a freshman is so hard, it really is, from the workload and extracurriculars to the sports, and the gifted office is such a wonderful place for them to go.”
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