By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
A love for children and an excitement for learning has guided Paula Do throughout her three-decade career at St. Francis of Assisi School.
Do, a third-grade teacher at the Highlands school, will receive the Father Joseph McGee Outstanding Catholic Educator Award at the Salute to Catholic School Alumni dinner on March 14.
Growing up with six brothers and sisters, Do said she and her siblings interacted with the neighborhood kids often.
“We played outside a lot. There were kids of all ages. I baby sat a lot. And, I worked at a daycare,” Do said in an interview at the school last week. “I’ve always enjoyed working with younger kids.”
Do has taught third grade at St. Francis of Assisi for 33 years, and in that time, she said, she has come to appreciate that particular stage in elementary school.
“It’s the perfect age. They can read, write, think and discuss. They are excited to learn. They haven’t hit puberty yet. They are kid kids,” she explained.
Do acknowledges that she has a reputation for firmness and said she “can be very strict.”
“The students know what I want from them. I set clear expectations in the beginning. Once they know expectations, they are respectful. With respectful, good behavior, you can do so much more,” she said.
Desks are clustered in groups of four in Do’s classroom, which allows for a lot of small group work.
“Once I set the activity and set the rules, my job is to walk around and guide,” she said.
Do attended St. James Church and School in Elizabethtown, Ky. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Bellarmine University and later received a master’s in education from the University of Louisville. She described her instruction at Bellarmine as “rigorous” and said it laid a solid foundation for her career as an educator.
Interacting with students and “getting them excited about learning” is what Do said she enjoys the most about the classroom.
“I really like the kids. I never mind walking in the door. I always enjoy seeing them,” she said.
Her goal, she said, is for the students to become self-advocates and to be responsible for their own learning.
In an effort to achieve this, Do said her students facilitate their own parent conferences. At the beginning of each quarter, the students set academic, behavioral and spiritual goals.
“They write down what they are most proud of. They start with prayer and then go through their own self-reflection. My job at conferences is to add or support,” she said.
Based on feedback at the conference, the child makes new goals for the upcoming quarter.
“My goal is that they know themselves as learners and as spiritual people,” she said.
Do said she felt honored to be included in the same category as past recipients of the Father McGee award.
“To rank up there with Fred Whittaker (2013 McGee winner and fellow St. Francis of Assisi teacher) and Kathleen Willenbrink (2016 McGee winner), whom I have great respect for, is amazing,” she said.
Do said she is able to achieve what she does in the classroom thanks to the supportive environment at St. Francis of Assisi, including fellow teachers, the administration, teaching assistants and parent support. “We work together. We support one another,” she said.
Steve Frommeyer, principal of St. Francis of Assisi, said Do’s character is what drove him to nominate her for the award.
“She is a great role model that lives out her faith through her actions,” he said.
He also noted that Do cares “deeply about the students” and routinely tries to find better techniques to assist her students.
“She is so dependable and trustworthy and as a result she has impacted so many children’s lives in countless ways,” Frommeyer said.