Allison Palfy often dons her black magic hat and whips out the puppet bunny hiding inside when she addresses her students.
The hat and bunny act as visual cues the Cedar Ridge Elementary School teacher uses to indicate to the third- and fourth-grade pupils in her early intervention class that the time has come to learn something fun and new.
"My philosophy of teaching is to make learning fun," said Palfy, who was named the county's tYeacher of the Year during an Oct. 1 banquet. "When you make learning fun, you create an environment where the students want to learn. They look forward to it."
The county's early intervention program is meant to aid pupils lagging behind their classmates in basic skills such as reading and math. Helping them often requires alternative and individualized teaching methods.
Palfy's hat symbolizes a new way to deliver instruction, instead of older teaching methods that have not served her pupils well in the past.
Game Day is a popular activity among Palfy's pupils.
Pupils play learning-based games such as Totally Tut, Factor Frenzy or Cross-Town Coordinates.
"They come in screaming 'Game Day!' " Palfy said. "They love it. The best part is that they're learning those math and reading skills they need to help them excel."
Palfy grew up in Virginia, where her father, Shirley Grey, once was a state finalist for Teacher of the Year.
"I think I came out of the womb wanting to teach," Palfy said. "It's in my blood. It's all I ever wanted to do."
Not only did she want to teach, Palfy wanted to reach struggling pupils.
"Even when she was a regular classroom teacher, Allison still was reaching out to at-risk students," Cedar Ridge Principal Sarah Wall said. "She had that drive inside her to help those kids."
Palfy moved to the area with her husband, Matt, about four years ago and took a third-grade teaching job at Lewiston Elementary, where Wall was the assistant principal at the time. When Wall was named principal of Cedar Ridge Elementary, Palfy went to her and expressed her desire to teach an early intervention class.
"It can be tough to work with at-risk kids, because you often don't see the immediate rewards that you get in a regular classroom, but that's what Allison wanted," Wall said.
With an average class size of eight pupils, Palfy continually pores over pupils' data to discover their weaknesses and develop lesson plans designed to strengthen those skills.
"I'm not satisfied with my students reaching grade level," she said. "I want them to be above grade level.
"I have high expectations in my class, and, when given a chance, children will rise to those expectations."
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