Kimberly Leight, an eighth-grade science teacher at Soehl Middle School, has been honored as one of New Jersey’s “Teachers Who Make Magic” by the New Jersey Education Association and radio station Magic 98.3.
By Gary Miller
Soehl Middle School science teacher Kimberly Leight doesn’t see anything extraordinary about going out of her way to show her students she cares about them, or about trying to be as involved with the students and the school as she can.
“I feel as though I just do my job,” she said.
It’s this kind of dedication that earned Leight the distinction of being named one of New Jersey’s Teachers Who Make Magic, an honor awarded by the radio station Magic 98.3 and the New Jersey Education Association.
Up to 24 outstanding teachers are chosen to receive this prestigious award. The teachers chosen for 2018 become lifetime members of the Teachers Who Make Magic, and are honored at an award ceremony at the Pines Manor in Edison on April 18. The honorees go “above and beyond in the classroom, or possess a unique way of shaping a child’s academic life,” according to the awards website.
“I was very shocked and thankful for this award,” Leight said. “Being nominated, let alone winning, was a surprise for sure.”
Leight’s commitment to excellence not only inspires her students, but her colleagues as well.
“Kim Leight is a true professional,” said Rose Goldstein, district supervisor of science. “There is a great deal of respect in her classroom, teacher to student, and student to student. Her lessons are well-planned and prepared. Her students are all actively engaged in the lessons with lots of opportunities for investigations, data collections and analysis, group and class discussions, making claims based on evidence, and self-assessments.
“Kim is a true asset to her students, her school, district, and community.”
Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi praised Leight for her honor and said her work embodies what Linden Public Schools strive for.
“We don’t want to simply teach a subject; we want to teach a student – the whole student,” he said. “Our teachers strive to instill a lifelong love of learning and a commitment to serve the Linden community. Ms. Leight is a shining example of this dedication.”
A big part of Leight’s contribution to the community is her work as adviser to Soehl’s Peer Leadership club, in which eighth-graders learn leadership skills and work as mentors to younger students. Last April, she and her students organized a basketball game between the Linden Police Department and Soehl students and staff. They also have a students-vs.-teachers game planned for March of this year, and Leight says she hopes to hold events like that more often so more students get to take part.
“The kids really get into it,” she said. “That’s a time when they can bond with their teachers. We’re doing a basketball game and we’re thinking about volleyball or kickball or something to give the students more opportunities to do it.”
The Peer Leadership students also work as mentors to sixth-graders to help them with homework or anything else they need to get acclimated to middle school. The students also visit elementary schools once a year to read to the younger students and create lessons and crafts for the day. They are also in the midst of painting inspirational quotes on the walls around Soehl.
“I am extremely proud of the effort Ms. Leight demonstrates each and every day,” said Soehl Principal Richard Molinaro. “Whether it’s in the classroom or out, she always goes above and beyond for the students of Soehl Middle School. Ms. Leight is an excellent role model for her Peer Leadership club, and she deserves this recognition for her ability to help coordinate community involvement and leadership within the school.”
Leight, who has been at Soehl for four years after starting there as a student teacher, said supporting and connecting with students is just as important as teaching them science.
“Knowing the students at a personal level and their knowing I am one of their biggest fans helps create a comfortable, safe environment, and positive rapport,” she said. “I want the students to enjoy learning and look forward to coming to my class and school each day.
“Each student leaves an impression on me, and I strive to make a positive impact in each of their lives.”