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By Devese “Dee” Ursery
Kristen Leech, Doris Intermediate School teacher was named Teacher of the Year by Collinsville VFW Post #5691 for the 2022–2023 school year.
Collinsville VFW Post #5691 requested recommendations for the award from schools in Collinsville Community Unit School District 10. Candidates were judged based on a variety of classifications: citizenship, innovation, resources and passion.
The Veterans of Foreign Affairs was established in 1899, and readily supports the education of this country’s youth. The VFW and its Auxiliary have created several initiatives dedicated to helping Educators. Alonzo “Skip” Skipper, VFW 5691 post commander explained that the award honors those teachers who value the sense of education and patriotism.
“This program recognizes teachers who care about America,” Skipper said. The VFW annually recognizes the nation’s top classroom teachers who teach citizenship education topics regularly and who promote American history, traditions and institutions.”
Leech received a Teacher of the Year certificate, a customized VFW Post #5691 Yeti Rambler and a gift card to Starbucks. The awards were presented at a banquet hosted by the VFW to celebrate the Collinsville Teacher of the Year and the winners of the Patriot Pen and Voice of Democracy Scholarships for Post #5691.
According to the VFW website, the Smart/Maher VFW Citizenship Education Teacher of the Year Award was pioneered in 1999. The award is named after former VFW National Commander John Smart and Larry Maher retired VFW quartermaster general.
Before her career as an educator Leech was a full-time military wife. She and her husband Tood have been married for 37 years. They have two daughters Whitney and Brittney, with three grandchildren between them. Leech is originally from Utah, but she and her family landed in Collinsville by way of her husband’s military orders.
“We met when I was a senior in high school and he was attending a local college,” Leech said. “We became a military family and later we eventually found our way to Collinsville, where we raised two daughters and now three grandchildren with another one on the way in May.”
Leech explained that there wasn’t necessarily a defining moment that inspired to become a teacher, she just knew that she wanted to give back to the community in a positive way, by motivating children to always do their best. “I want to help students understand that one day they will realize school is important and to do what I can to help them enjoy school and be motivated to learn,” Leech continued.
When she is not teaching, Leech said she enjoys spending time with her family watching movies. She said her family travels back to Utah whenever she gets a chance to.
Leech said that she considers all teachers to be both teacher and educator because they not only teach material, but help students to grow socially.
“The majority of our day is actually teaching students academics,” Leech said. “We also spend time teaching social skills, conflict resolution and perseverance.”
Leech said getting to know the students and their different personalities is what she likes most about her job. “They are so funny and witty, they make me laugh everyday,” Leech said.
Leech has been working in education for a total of 23 years. She said she was a teacher’s assistant in Collinsville for 10 years before obtaining her credentials to become a licensed educator. She became a special education teacher for CUSD 10 in 2010, teaching at Twin Echo Elementary. Leech transferred to DIS in 2019.
Leech humbly explained that while she was nominated, all of the teachers at DIS are incredible teachers, with a great administrative staff that supports them.
“Being nominated for Teacher of the Year by our building administrator was an honor,” Leech said. “All of the teachers at Doris Intermediate are excellent because we have such a fantastic team of administrators who support us.”