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Faces of 501: Yale Taylor

Yale Taylor is in his fifth year working for Topeka Public Schools. For the past four years, he has been a math teacher at Jardine Middle School and is now a math interventionist and a Comprehensive, Integrated, Three-Tiered (Ci3T) trainer. During the summer Taylor, who is a member of the Choctaw Nation, is a camp counselor for the TPS Indian Education Summer School. The camp is for eligible Native American students that have completed kindergarten through seventh grade.

“As a classroom teacher my day had more structure and was very organized. Lessons and activities were broken down into blocks of time and I repeated these same lessons and activities for each class. As a math interventionist, I visit multiple grade levels, sixth through eighth grade, in a typical day. The educational needs of each student vary depending on the class. A thirty-minute activity is normally planned, but can be adjusted to accommodate each student. It makes each day exciting and keeps me mindful on how I ca…

Officer Surprised with the William H. Spurgeon II Award

Topeka Police Officer Darren Campbell was surprised with the William H. Spurgeon II Award on Monday, February 5, at 8 a.m. The surprise happened at French Middle School, where Officer Campbell serves as the school resource officer.

Officer Campbell was nominated by Officer Brandon Gogian, for the award from the Jayhawk Area Council Boy Scouts, and was not aware he was nominated or that he had won. The award is presented to men and women who have displayed outstanding leadership to the Exploring Program as either an Explorer post adult leader or as a district, division or council exploring adult volunteer.

"Darren has gone above and beyond all expectations to show the youth of our community and the Explorer Post what volunteerism is all about," said Officer Brandon Gogian. "He is always looking to better the lives of others before his own. Through his leadership and example, young people through this community are seeking out positive activities instead of delinquency…

Faces of 501: Joe Hall, Jr.

Joe L. Hall Jr. is in his first year as a guidance counselor at Topeka West High School. Hall is originally from Compton, California where he was a three-sport All-American high school athlete. He played football at a community college in California and was named California Player of the Year. He then earned a scholarship to Kansas State University in 1999. After completing his collegiate playing career at K-State, he entered the National Football League with the St. Louis Rams. He played five years in the NFL with the Rams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders. When his professional football career was over, he and his wife and four children moved back to Manhattan where they have lived for the past seven years.

“I share my story with students, but I tend to share more about my childhood in Compton than I do my life at any other point. I think the relational piece goes a long way for most students. The fact that I have personally experienced similar issues that they may be h…

Faces of 501: Leo Espinoza

Leobardo Espinoza Jr. is the college and career advocate at Topeka High School, but it was just a few short years ago that he roamed the halls as a student. After graduating high school in 2013, he went to Yale University and graduated in 2017. In addition to helping students in the district, he recently had two entries into Topeka’s Top Tank entrepreneur competition, both advancing to the top 20. One idea even moved on to the top 10. The overall winner of $100,000 will be announced on February 17.
“I submitted two ideas for the completion, one I developed with friends, Lucas Ryan and Ashley Klemme, for Chatterhouse Coffee Shop, and one idea, Boca Bites that I had been working with my mom, Martha Espinoza for a while. The Chatterhouse idea advanced to the Top Ten. When I saw the opportunity I knew I couldn't let it pass. Before finalizing our ideas, I talked to various mentors to bounce ideas off of them and to hear their thoughts on what I had thus far.”
“It’s been a fun experienc…

January Above & Beyond Award: Ryan Key

Ryan Key felt a calling to support the students at Jardine Middle School, which he followed by becoming a WyldLife team leader volunteer. Through Young Life's WyldLife program, Key has dedicated his time to building relationships and becoming a support system for students. Ryan Key is the January Above & Beyond Award recipient. 

Despite being a full-time college student majoring in Communication Studies at Washburn University, Key finds the time to volunteer as part of the WyldLife program at Jardine. The program is specifically tailored to help mentor and support middle school students. 

"We want to build relationships with these kids that would transfer from their time in middle school to their future high school career" Key explained. "Young Life is important to me, because I believe that it is important for us to build relationships with the youth so that we can share the love of Christ with them." 

Key was nominated for this award by Mike Haire, principal…

Faces of 501: Dr. Pilar Mejia

Dr. Pilar Mejía has dedicated herself to Topeka Public Schools for the past 13 years. She has worked as a teacher, an ELL teacher, an ELL Secondary Instructional Coach, Dual Language Coordinator, Assistant Principal and now as the Principal at Highland Park Central Elementary.
“Before I worked for Topeka Public Schools I earned a degree in Fashion Design in Cali, Colombia, where I am originally from. I also received a master’s in Product Management Fashion, in Milan, Italy. I taught foreign languages, English, Italian and Spanish at Berlitz Language Institute in Cali, Colombia. When I came to the United States I earned a teaching a degree from Washburn University, a master’s degree from the University of Kansas and a doctorate from Kansas State University.”
“I went into teaching because I love children and I love learning. I wanted to share my passion for learning in hopes that I could transmit some of it to the students with whom I became in contact. I believe education changes and sa…

Faces of 501: Barbie Atkins

Barbie Atkins is in her fourth year teaching art to Robinson Middle School students, where she “builds confidence in young humans and creates odd things.” On the weekends, she volunteers at Stormont Vail Health snuggling babies in the NICU. In her time at Topeka Public Schools she has been honored with the first-year teacher Distinguished Staff Award and the state-wide new teacher Horizon Award. She has also led district professional development, new teacher orientation and is a part of the TPS Fine Arts Curriculum Team.
“I've always created. Art was my outlet growing up.  It helped me through a lot. I grew up in a small town in southeast Kansas. When I was little, I would walk myself to the library, sit on the floor in the art section surrounded by a mound of books and copy out of 'how to draw' manuals.  I always knew my life would involve art, but I didn't set out to become a teacher until after I graduated from college. I did some soul searching and decided that wha…

Faces of 501: Jessica Johnston

Jessica Johnston is the associate principal at Highland Park High School and has worked for Topeka Public Schools for the past six years. This summer, she competed for the first time in the martial art jiu-jitsu competition at the Sunflower State Games, finishing with a silver medal. Brazilian jiu-jitsu shows that a smaller, weaker person can defend themselves against a bigger opponent by using their technique and taking the fight to the ground.
“I’ve been practicing jiu-jitsu for the past two years.  I originally began by taking a modern self-defense course through FIRE Defensive Skills here in Topeka. Jiu-jitsu was a major component of the class. It is designed to give a smaller person an advantage by using techniques and leverage if a fight would ever end up going to the ground. As a five foot, one-inch woman this is very important to me. As I became more and more involved in the class I found that I really loved grappling and started studying Gracie jiu-jitsu. When you first start…

Faces of 501: Wayne Sherman

Wayne Sherman is the building operator at Topeka West High School and has worked for Topeka Public Schools for the past 17 years. Sherman has pride in his job at the school and often wins ‘cleanest building’ for him and his team’s work. Before working for TPS he had a 20-year career in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Colorado, Georgia, three different times in Germany, Bosnia and retired from Fort Riley in Kansas.“I graduated from Highland Park High School in 1980 and joined the U.S. Army right out of high school as an infantry solider. This job is similar to the military, they both require you to be responsible with your work area and your time. Our school has won ‘cleanest building’ for several years, I think it’s because of my ethical behavior that ensures that our work is completed with integrity and honesty. I always adhere to the policies and rules, while working to meet the goals of the district. The times we’ve won the award is truly an honor. I have a …