Thanks to a partnership with Holy Cross College, Covenant has been blessed to have Mariano Gomez, a senior at Holy Cross, taking on various writing projects for the school this semester. Mariano’s work includes writing Press Releases, News Stories for our blog, profiles of Covenant Families and Teacher Biographies. Each of our teachers is being interviewed by Mariano so he can write a short biography to tell our teachers’ stories. The bios are being added each week to Covenant’s Faculty webpage. Thank you Mariano!

This week, we’d like to help you get to know our Second and Third Grade Teachers a little better…

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Principal Hesselink

Maestra Colina  |  Second Grade Spanish Immersion

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Sra. Colina’s transition from Maracaibo in Zulia, Venezuela to the upper-midwest involved more than a little culture shock. From the language, to the abundance of resources, to the way colleagues relate at work, everything was different. Because learning English was her first priority, Sra. Colina headed to Caribbean to hone her language skills. But she didn’t stay long since the accent and manner of speech on those white sand beaches is quite different from American English. After her stint in the Caribbean, Sra. Colina moved to the upper Midwest, where she studied English and Education at Lake Michigan College. While studying she worked at a Panera in Mishawaka, which also provided her ample opportunities to perfect her English. But her plan was never to stay in Michiana. Originally she planned to learn English, return to Venezuela, and become an English teacher. But as she says herself, “plans change.” Instead of teaching English at home, she found a job working at a daycare in Michigan.

After working in daycare, Sra. Colina began working in a bilingual program in the public schools, teaching kindergarten for four years, then first and second grade for 5 years. But she really wanted to teach in a Christian school. One day, during a short conversation with a member of her church, Sra Colina found that there was a position at Covenant Christian.

Sra. Colina loves her 2nd grade immersion class because “they are on the edge of fantasy and reality, you need to take advantage of this age and encourage exploration.” She encourages this imaginative exploration through rotating activity centers for the kids. Sra. Colina knows from her experience that, no matter how rowdy the children are, they enjoy and respond best to creative structure in the classroom.

Miss. Knisley  |  Second & Third Grade English

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Visitors to Miss. Knisley’s room are sometimes surprised by her unorthodox classroom pets. She has two cockatiels which fly about the room at will. She says the students enjoy interacting with the birds, particularly during their impressionable early years. And having the birds loose teaches the students a bit more responsibility because they learn to look out for other creatures. At the end of the day, the students are the reason Miss. Knisley teaches—“without the students, the class is just a room.”

Miss. Knisley knew she wanted to teach at a Christian school since she was a little girl playing school with her brother and sisters. Raised in South Bend, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in education from Bethel College, and an Associate’s degree in writing and Masters in education from IUSB.

Before joining the Covenant faculty in 2014, Miss. Knisley taught third grade and directed school plays at Corpus Christi for eight years. Although Corpus Christi was a rich Christian environment, she wanted to teach in an multi-denominational institution, and Covenant Christian kept coming up. Her roommate was on staff at Covenant. A close friend’s children attended the school. When her roommate told her that there was a vacancy at Covenant, her interest was piqued and she applied.

Miss. Knisley came to Covenant Christian well prepared. Besides extensive elementary school experience, she’s also taught at her church, Faith Community Church, where she works with the children’s ministry and plays the piano on her worship team. And she continues to bring children’s theatrical ambitions to life, directing the school plays Covenant Christian just as she did at Corpus Christi.

Maestra Mendoza  |  Third Grade Spanish Immersion

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On September 20 2017, Maestra Mendoza left her classroom to try and contact her family in Puerto Rico, which had just been devastated by Hurricane Maria. Not having any luck and close to tears she returned to the classroom, sat down and let heave a sigh. Connecting her sigh with the the recent natural disaster, a brown-haired boy in the third row immediately slammed his book and proclaimed, “That’s it, time for me to pray.”

This moment gave birth to the school’s hurricane relief effort and launched the third-grade class’s pen-pal program with her sister’s school in Puerto Rico. In one letter exchange, a student proudly wrote his pen-pal that his teacher was teaching them “Puerto Rican Spanish.” Relationships like these have strengthened her students’ awareness not only of Spanish, but of the lives of children like themselves in other parts of the world.

Despite being a territory of the United States, learning English was difficult for Maestra Mendoza in Puerto Rico due to the low numbers of English teachers. She first came to the United States with the intention of returning an English teacher, but her plans changed when she was asked to become part of the Bilingual Department in South Bend. While at the department she sought the mentorship of Maritza Robles, the director of the bilingual Department at the time. Robles fostered Maestra Mendoza’s desire to be a better teacher by pushing her to hone her educational skills, ultimately encouraging her to receive training to work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. She enjoyed her time working for the public school system, but she has never felt more comfortable teaching than she does at Covenant Christian School.

But she’s not only a Covenant teacher—she’s a Covenant parent, too. She notices that her son thrives in the rich environment at Covenant. He previously attended a  Montessori school, where he was content learning at his own pace. But he flourished academically after moving to Covenant Christian thanks to the challenge of the classroom and an environment that celebrates his family’s culture.

Maestra Mendoza loves working with the third grade students because they have grown up together through the Immersion Program. Since the students know each other well, they have already developed the awareness and skills to help each other and are open to learning as much as possible.

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