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Staying on her game
At the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, teacher Whitney Martina has taught in the same classroom where her grandmother once did.
It was known as Chapman Elementary School back then, and after her husband, famed U-2 pilot Steve Heyser retired from the Air Force back to his hometown, Jackie Heyser was a teacher there.
It was also the building where the former Whitney Heyser – granddaughter of the Heysers as well as prominent local seafood dealer Bobby and Libby Kirvin – attended elementary school.
Years later, Martina’s education in the Franklin County Schools, and later at Gulf Coast State College and Florida State (where both her grandfathers attended), plus her ongoing dedication to the profession, has led to the fifth grade math and science teacher being named Teacher of the Year at the charter school.
She had been selected as the school’s elementary level Teacher of the Year, while Anna Keel was chosen for that honor at the middle school, where she teaches ESE. Amy Anderson, the school’s office manager, was named the ABC’s School-Related Support Person of the Year.
Martina now goes on to compete for the district’s Teacher of the Year honors, with a banquet sponsored by the Franklin Education Foundation to celebrate all the honorees slated for later this spring.
“The biggest thing is to keep kids motivated to learn, that this is how you will use this in real life,” said Martina.
“I love my job, it doesn’t really feel like work. It’s something I was meant to do,” said Martina, married to husband Brandon, parents of ABC sixth grader Madison and third grader Parker.
Martina, who said she started off wanting to be a nurse, said her focus changed, in part due to the influences she had in Franklin County classrooms, by such teachers as Bertha Stanley, Serena Mirabella, Vicky Fuentes and her daughter Patti Bouington.
“Both were amazing math teachers,” she said.
After graduating as one of two valedictorians in Apalachicola High School’s Class of 2004, Martina attended Gulf Coast State College for two years, and then completed her bachelor’s degree at the FSU campus in Panama City, where she graduated magna cum laude in Dec. 2008.
A month later, Don Hungerford, then principal at ABC, hired her to teach kindergarten
“We started at the trailers,” Martina said, referring to the assemblage of modular units on land west of Apalachicola that marked the school’s early years.
“When we moved to Chapman, Mr. Hungerford needed a third grade teacher and he knew my heart was in teaching,” she said. “I stayed there for several years and we had a lot of success with state testing results.”
After two years in the fourth grade, Martina has been at the helm of a fifth grade classroom for the past five years.
In working to bring fun and energy to a subject that can turn even the some of the brightest students off, Martina draws on methods that help bring out a “number sense” in students, rather than just reiterate rote memorization.
“I bring drawings and manipulatives to make the concepts real life, to something they would encounter every day,” she said. “I try to go to the heart of what they’re doing, instead of making it an abstract algorithm. I try to make it so they have a visual representation.”
At the same time, she works to make sure she hasn’t overly simplified the subject to the point where the students don’t fully grasp it. On her classroom wall is a sign that reads “We don’t do easy. We make easy happen through hard work and learning.”
The development of “number sense” is a big part of the new Best Practice the state will implement to succeed the Florida Standards that have been a big focus of statewide testing now being phased out.
Together with teachers from Franklin County School, she is part of a roll-out team for these Best Practices that’s traveled to Pensacola for training that was later shared with fellow instructors.
Along with math – everything from fractions to geometry to decimals – Martina teaches an hour of science daily to the 33 fifth graders. There they study everything from the solar system and space, to earth science, the water cycle and weather, where they become “miniature meteorologists. Going to lunch I’ll quiz them on what kind of cloud is that?
“It’s a pretty magical thing to understand the world around them,” she said. “We just finished Newton’s laws of motion, and next week we’re learning about the human body and organs and functions.”
If this dedication to classroom teaching isn’t enough, Martina also has served as the school’s data specialist, crunching numbers in order to make suggestions to her fellow faculty members on what to focus on to foster learning growth.
During the brunt of the COVID school closures, she created instructional videos to help teachers master Google Classroom and other technologies.
“I knew during COVID we had to switch to a virtual learning platform,” Martina said. “We had to get creative during COVID. Some were using some things they didn’t know about entirely.”
By the way, in addition to her work at ABC, Martina has spent two years teaching online, starting her day at 5 a.m. to teach English to students in Shanghai and Beijing, China.
“There’s a 12-hour time difference, my mornings were their evenings,” she said. “I just really missed teaching reading, and it gave me an opportunity to teach it.
“It’s important to stay on my game,” Martina said. “I can always be doing better.”