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At their service: Dixon teacher goes above and beyond her duty

Army veteran named October winner of Dixon's Amazing Teacher contest

DIXON – Election day came early in Washington Elementary School, and it saw a tight race between hamburgers and hot dogs.

The two dinner dishes were on the ballot in Carie Ramirez’s kindergarten class Tuesday, where students learned what it’s like to participate at the polls. With “registration cards” in hand, each student went through the process of voting for their favorite food.

The winner: hot dogs.

“I try to make it memorable for them, so that way, when you become 18 you register to vote. That way they know that they have to have a voter registration card to be able to vote.”

Giving students a taste of the political process and the importance of a person’s vote was more than just another lesson for Ramirez; it was a reminder of her other calling – her call of duty.

It’s also an example of why she earned Sauk Valley Media and KSB Hospital’s Dixon Amazing Teachers Award for October.

Ramirez, 39, fought back tears as she was surprised Friday with the award. Just the mention of “tears” sent a couple of her students up to her with open arms.

“I work with a great, amazing group of teachers that help me to be a better teacher,” Ramirez said. “The kids are amazing and they teach me new things every year. It’s not just me teaching them, it’s them teaching me also.”

With Tuesday’s election over, it was on to getting ready for another big day, one near and dear to Ramirez’s heart: Veterans Day.

Ramirez served in the Army Reserves from 1997 to 2006, beginning her service while still in high school, going on to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004-05 and eventually reaching the rank of sergeant. Serving her country was something she had wanted to do ever since she was young.

After her time in the reserves, she returned home to start a career in teaching. Every now and again, she’ll don her uniform and bring some of her gear to the classroom.

Her students brought pictures of veterans in their family to post on a wall and they’ll share their experiences with other classmates. It’s lessons like that, and the mock election, that stick with kids, Ramirez said.

Today’s kindergarten is a lot different than the kind she grew up with as a kindergärtner in the mid-1980s at Wallace School in Sterling. She recalled her teacher, Lisa Rechkemmer, as calm, sweet, and someone who loved to read, instilling that love in her students.

“We had a snack, we played outside, we had free play and we listened to stories,” Ramirez said. Now, “kindergarten is a lot more different because there are so many demands on the kids. Now we’re teaching them to read, to write and to do addition and subtraction.”

After graduating from Sterling High School in 1998, she studied education at Northern Illinois University, inspired to teach by her second-grade teacher, Sharon Johns. Kindergarten wasn’t on her short list of grades she wanted to teach, but after clinicals and student teaching, she found herself ready to teach a grade that’s a crucial a starting point for students’ education.

“That first year of full-day school, all year long, to watch some of these kids come in and don’t know a letter, a sound, or numbers, and by the end of kindergarten they are reading, they’re doing math problems,” she said. “That to me is purely amazing.”

Ramirez has seen taught two of Vanessa Simonton’s children: Braelynn is one of her current students, and her brother, Brycen, was in kindergarten 2 years ago.

Simonton considers Ramirez to be a “kinder-mom,” helping students with social and emotional needs as well their educational needs. She said she likes that Ramirez has a couch in the middle of the classroom to give students a place where they can feel comfortable at times of need.

“Kindergarten is a time of celebration and spectacular growth,” Simonton said. “When she swung the door open at the end of the first day wearing a smile, several kids, and an apron full of supplies, I knew my kiddo was in great hands.”

Christina Kitson’s daughter, Emily, had nervous jitters about starting kindergarten and knowing how to read. It didn’t take long for Ramirez to make her feel comfortable.

“She was very instrumental in helping shape the love my daughter currently has for school and we often still talk about things she did in kindergarten with her,” Kitson said. “She made a hard transition for our family into wonderful memories of her kindergarten year.”

Washington Principal Jeff Gould said Ramirez has a good rapport with parents and a great worth ethic. Like Ramirez, he served in the military, in the Army as a military policeman from 1985-89. And he’s not the only one. Several others at Washington also served, giving them a common bond.

“She’s very conscientious of doing a good job,” he said. “This is a terrific bonus for her as she is a veteran, and it’s just an added bonus for the day to get this honor. Just being known throughout the community in a positive light like this, it’s awesome.”

When she’s not teaching, she roots for the Buffalo Bills and NIU Huskies with her husband of 15 years, Sam, who is sports director at NRG Media in Dixon.

“It’s a true joy to come here every day and teach these kiddos,” she said.

DO YOU KNOW AN AMAZING TEACHER?

Do you know an amazing teacher at Dixon Public Schools, St. Anne Elementary or St. Mary Elementary? Nominate him or her for the Dixon’s Amazing Teachers monthly contest.

Nominations for November will be accepted from Nov. 18 to Nov. 24. Four finalists will be chosen for a vote until Dec. 1.

Go to saukvalley.secondstreetapp.com/dixonamazing to vote or for more information.

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