Teachers are often an inspiration to students. Whether they offer a show of support or spark creativity and passion for a student, teachers do more than assign homework and grade papers. They help students learn about themselves and what they can become.

In this issue of Waco Today, we again place a spotlight on area teachers who have been recognized by their peers as outstanding educators on their campus. Their devotion, care and spirit for their calling makes each of their schools a better place to learn.

Midway Middle School

Lara Robertson

Broadcast and professional communications teacher

In her 11th year at Midway Middle School, Robertson has been teaching broadcast and professional communications for the past two years. She taught seventh-grade English for eight years and reading intervention for one. She also has sponsored the student council for a few years and has been the middle school cheer coach for eight years.

Robertson’s entire career in education has been with Midway Middle School. She graduated from Texas A&M University with a journalism degree and spent a full year substitute teaching there “while deciding exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she said.

“After realizing that perhaps teaching was my calling, I was fortunate that Bill Killian, the principal at that time, was willing to take a chance on a newbie!”

“There are so many things about teaching that I enjoy, but nearly every single one of them involves my kids,” she said. “Middle school kids are unique, creative, innovative, intelligent, witty, accepting, hilarious, compassionate, understanding and fun. I teach for the moments when they understand that everyone has a story and perspective and fully realize the impact communication has on relationships and society.”


Indian Spring Middle School

Chemise Sora

English, language arts and reading teacher

This Connally High School graduate has been teaching for 14 years, including time at La Vega High School as well as with Waco ISD’s G.L. Wiley and Brazos middle schools before they were closed. She has been at Indian Spring the two years since it began.

She said she loves seeing the bubbly personalities in the students at this age. “It’s such a blessing to interact with all the eighth-graders,” she said.

“I really enjoy the ‘aha’ moments with the kids,” as they grasp new concepts, she said. “It’s wonderful to see how much they have matured by the spring semester. You’re prepping them for the next chapter of their lives at high school. It’s a stop along the road to becoming a young adult.”

A recent visit by the students to University High School brought home the growth, she said, as she saw former students of hers who had blossomed into active leaders at the school.

In her classes, students do everything in their “interactive notebooks,” composition books that they use extensively. She likes to refer to them as their “Eye-Pads,” she said with a wink.


Crestview Elementary

Tanya McKinney

Second-grade teacher

Tanya McKinney didn’t get into the classroom right away. With a degree in computer information systems from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, she spent 10 years as a computer programmer with the Texas Farm Bureau and the McLane Company.

But a commercial one evening for an alternative teacher certification program at McLennan Community College intrigued her, and the University High School graduate embarked on a second career.

Her first six years at Crestview she worked as a special education teacher. She is in her second year with second-graders at the school.

She loves how the kids are still truly enjoying school as they learn new ideas.

“You can still be a hero to the kids at this age,” she said about embracing her position as a role model as well. McKinney said she is thrilled to have the kids throughout the day in a one-on-one relationship.

“I love seeing their growth as students,” she said.


Brook Avenue Elementary

Crystal Perales

Kindergarten teacher

Crystal Perales starts with students at the beginning of their educational journey, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Because it is kindergarten, I like being the foundation for their learning,” she said. “Some know their letters when they start kindergarten; some don’t. You teach them the letters, numbers and shapes. To see them grow and connect all these things — to add, subtract, the reading and writing — that’s just wonderful.”

Perales is in her fourth year of teaching, having previously been a prekindergarten teacher at J.H. Hines and Meadowbrook elementaries.

Being a kindergarten teacher means keeping them interested and engaged all day. Vibrant objects, such as stuffed animals, helps to do that, she said. “They like colorful things.”

“I love kindergarten and knowing that then I can send them off (to the first grade) and they know the connection between everything I’ve taught them.”


Midway High School

Caleb Bales

Pre-AP and Advanced Placement art teacher

This Baylor University graduate is in his seventh year at Midway High School. At Baylor, Bales studied under art teachers like Karl Umlauf and Terry Roller, who were big influences on him.

So were his parents, who both were teachers.

“It just seemed like that’s what I was supposed to do, and I fell in love with it,” he said.

Bales said there’s a lot of fulfillment for him in teaching art, especially at the Advanced Placement level with talented students.

“I create art every day, but it’s new and it’s fresh because the kids are doing it,” he said. “Each student has their own idea that they bring to a project. It’s like you give them a problem to solve, and it doesn’t have to be done a certain way like math, but it’s always correct.”


More terrific teachers

Waco Today selected five individuals to showcase in this month’s Terrific Teachers feature. They represent a mere fraction of all the outstanding teachers in the area and even among those recognized on their campuses this school year in McLennan County’s largest school districts — Waco and Midway.

Here we present the complete list of campus honorees

from the Midway and Waco districts:

Midway ISD

Kayla Citrano, Castleman Creek Elementary

Nancy Hurst, Hewitt Elementary

Garret Jackson, South Bosque Elementary

Christine Reed, Speegleville Elementary

Staci Morgan, Spring Valley Elementary

Brenda Niles, Woodway Elementary

Beka Gross, River Valley Intermediate

Mandy Mathews, Woodgate Intermediate

Lara Robertson, Midway Middle

Beth Zuilhof, Midway Middle

Caleb Bales, Midway High

Jill Wilkinson, Midway High


Waco ISD

Kathryn DeLaPena, Alta Vista Elementary

Diane Biarnesen, Bell’s Hill Elementary

Crystal Perales, Brook Avenue Elementary

Angela McKinney, Cedar Ridge Elementary

Tanya McKinney, Crestview Elementary

Alison Davis, Dean Highland Elementary

Patrecia Whitley, Hillcrest PDS

Kristen Pliscott, J.H. Hines Elementary

Miranda Romero, Kendrick Elementary

Haley Dean, Lake Air Montessori

Kimberly Scoggins, Mountainview Elementary

Crystal Stanford, Parkdale Elementary

Jamie Ochoa, Provident Heights Elementary

Devon Sharp, South Waco Elementary

Monica Richmond, West Avenue Elementary

Julie Pena, Cesar Chavez Middle

Shiwan Pearson, G.W. Carver Middle

Chemisa Sora, Indian Spring Middle

Jennifer Kunz, Tennyson Middle

Janae Beauchamp, University High

John Weeks, Waco High

James Whatley, Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy

Kelley Gonzales, G.L. Wiley Opportunity Center

Mary Evans, Brazos High Credit Recovery Center

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