On Saturday, July 6, Earl Lawson Elementary School (Leavenworth) kindergarten teacher Kelsey Stimatze was honored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC) and Sporting Kansas City as the July Blue KC Sporting Samaritan.
“Kelsey Stimatze is making education both effective and fun for her students,” said Christina Lively, Department Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Blue KC. “Her ability to help students learn the way that best benefits them is helping them get their education started off on a positive note. It’s clear that she truly cares about every kid who comes to her classroom, and we are pleased to honor her as a Blue KC Sporting Samaritan."
When Stimatze began her teaching career after graduating from Kansas State University in 2013, she conducted class the way she’d learned and did things “by the books.” But in her five years at Earl Lawson and gaining a greater understanding of early childhood development, Stimatze has shifted her approach and begun helping her kids learn in a greater way through what they naturally do best: play.
Together with her building administrator, Stimatze developed a play-based learning program that increases the opportunities for students to be problem-solvers and hands-on learners and to initiate their own learning.
“Teaching such young students in a very traditional way was not what was best for the students that we serve,” said Stimatze, who has a number of students and families with loved ones incarcerated in the Leavenworth community’s large prison system. “With this model, my students are given more opportunities to be creative, and they can explore their education in playful ways. Children naturally want to play, and we have now given them an educational experience that helps facilitate both child-initiated and teacher-supported learning.”
In addition to creating the play-based learning program, Stimatze also helped transform an empty classroom at Earl Lawson into a play center complete with a rock wall, kitchen area, basketball goal, mini trampoline, puzzles, board games, kinetic sand, Lego wall and more. Each kindergarten class utilizes the room between two and three times per day to experience unstructured play—interacting with whomever they choose and with any of the available structures or items. The teacher’s job is to facilitate social skills.
“This has become the perfect time for me to either teach or review any social skill that I may see a certain individual lacking or that the whole class lacks,” said Stimatze. “The students’ jobs during that time are to just have fun and play with their friends and be a 5-year-old kid. They are learning so much while they are in the playroom, and it’s all on their own terms and through conversations and interactions with their peers.”
The overall results of the play-based learning initiatives have been outstanding. According to Stimatze, academic and vocabulary skills have increased, while incidents of student behavior have decreased. Not to mention, students are enjoying coming to school now more than ever.
“Kelsey needs to be recognized for not only her talents, but the many lives she has already impacted: the kiddos who dreaded school until they met her; the ones who will grow up learning how to give back because of her,” said Janet Stimatze,
Kelsey’s mom, who has closely observed the evolution of her approach to and the impact of her teaching. “She is not only a good teacher, but also a good person, and she deserves to be recognized for the contribution that she makes for the success of tomorrow.”
According to Stimatze’s brother, who also has observed her transformational work with the students, the impact she makes is based in her willingness to embrace the challenges that are specific to the community and learn how to create an environment that accepts the difficulties and allows the students to thrive.
“The students and their families are amazing to work with, but for many of the teachers, it is a different family structure and culture than they have experienced,” said Ryan Stimatze, addressing the nature of a community with a prison system. “Kelsey is no different in that fact. Like many educators, Kelsey uses her own finances to provide school supplies, little extras and other resources needed to make students comfortable and eliminate outside distractions so that when they arrive to her classroom, instruction can come to life and greater focus achieved. She knows how to make my child learn at his or her best, which is evident in how she prioritizes her morning routines, builds family structures into her classroom, and patiently teaches students mindfulness for self-regulation of their emotions. Kelsey is truly shaping future generations with her skill and passion.”
For Stimatze, it is one of her greatest joys. Beyond the increased learning skills, the result she revels in the most is the one in which she gets to provide an environment of unconditional love and support for her kids.
“One of the most rewarding feelings is the simplest ‘I love you’ followed by the biggest hug,” said Stimatze, who has big-picture goals for her time at Earl Lawson. “I want to be the person who shows them love and kindness. I want my classroom environment to beam with positivity each day so they are excited to come back and learn. I want to give them the education that sets them up for success within any career path they choose. And I want to teach them to be resilient so they are able to face any challenges they may endure outside of our four walls.”
With Blue KC Sporting Samaritans being honored monthly at Children’s Mercy Park during Sporting home games, fans are encouraged to nominate students and teachers like Stimatze who are making a positive impact on their schools and in their communities. To nominate, visit https://www.sportingkc.com/bluekc.