Area personality: Kathy Nalisnik
In the season of giving, one Cairnbrook Elementary School teacher has been heavily working in her spare time to raise about $3,000 for the Shade-Central City School District since 2016.
Kathy Nalisnik, who has taught elementary pupils for 29 years, said she uses an online nonprofit organization called DonorsChoose to obtain some important items for the district in hopes of making the science-learning process more enjoyable and to give her pupils the opportunities that other school districts with bigger enrollment numbers have.
Some of the items Nalisnik has obtained through crowdfunding include a 3D printer, a science biography library and several K’nex toy building kits. She has also obtained some everyday disposable supplies that she keeps in her classroom.
“We’ve been trying to bring a lot more (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities into our classroom. We don’t have a lot of that, so we’re trying to acquire more STEM materials,” Nalisnik said. “I want to give my kids opportunities that bigger schools have, and this is the trend. When I’m exposed to something during training, I want to bring it back to the kids and just make sure that even though we’re small, we’re mighty.”
There are about 400 students enrolled in the district. Each grade, according to district officials, averages at about 28 students and class sizes generally do not exceed more than 15.
Nalisnik teaches science to pupils in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades. She said the small class size makes the educational experience more personal.
“It helps be a better teacher because, when you do know their strengths and their weaknesses, then you know the best way to approach lessons or what’s going to motivate them. It’s nice,” she said. “It feels like family, and I’m proud of our little school. That’s why I do a lot of this stuff … I love my (students).”
In the first half of her Dec. 7 fifth grade class period, Nalisnik was teaching pupils how to identify rocks and minerals by using their touch and smell senses.
She did not sit at her desk once. She walked past each table several times, making comments to help them.
At least two pupils recognized a smell of gunpowder and sparkler fireworks. They were smelling sulfur.
Dominick Davis, a pupil of Nalisnik, said he had her as a teacher last year as a fourth-grader.
“I hope I have her next year, too,” he said.
Adriane Boyer also teaches science at the elementary school. Nalisnik and Boyer and the only two science teachers who teach pupils in the third through sixth grades.
Boyer said she has known Nalisnik for seven years and has worked alongside her for six. She said they work well together.
“We feed off of each other’s strengths, definitely. We plan together, which makes things were nice,” Boyer said. “We try to change at least 20 percent of our curriculum every year.
“Honestly, I’ve been in education for a long time, and I’ve just learned a great deal from her, and these have been the best teaching years of my life. I have always had a love of science, (and Nalisnik) has a true love of science.”
Nalisnik said she thinks it is important for their science curriculums to be similar and up-to-date.
“That’s an important thing — to keep your curriculum current,” she said. “Being able to teach science is just a natural extension of play, I think. It’s almost beautiful to watch it through their eyes as they discover.”
Nalisnik also said she had to brag about the success of her fifth grade class’ collective performance on the state-standardized PSSA science test last year.
“This class is the first class we’ve ever had where 100 percent of the students passed the test with either advanced or proficient. So, these guys are scientists.”
In the second half of her class, Nalisnik took pupils to an adjacent computer lab to learn coding by creating stories with a Google program called Scratch. Each grade of her pupils created stories using the program.
“This has to do with DonorsChoose, too. If our students complete these coding projects, then we’ll get a $100 credit to our DonorsChoose account that we can put toward projects we’d like to see funded,” Nalisnik said.
Though Nalisnik has obtained supplies for her pupils to use, she said they have given her gifts over the years, too. There are more than 100 Garfield figurines and stuffed animals in Nalisnik’s classroom.
“When I taught at another school, I had a few Garfield posters, and some of the kids just started to bring me Garfields and Garfields,” she said. “I didn’t buy any of those. Those were all gifts from students over the years. Whenever I retire one day, I hope to have enough to give one to every kid.”