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Showing posts from January, 2018

Faces of 501: Leo Espinoza

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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…