By Karen Billing
Solana Santa Fe Elementary School fourth grade teacher Monica Rainville is the Solana Beach School District “Teacher of the Year.” In her spirited, goal-oriented classroom, she takes her young students through legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success,” teaching them to perform at their best when their best is required and as Coach Wooden said, their best is required each day.
“I promote the building blocks of success for the future,” Rainville said. “I think of children as our future and want to give them the skills, confidence and drive to make their lives successful.”
Rainville found out about her honor at an “emergency staff meeting” – she caught on about what was happening when not only the superintendent and assistant superintendent were present with flowers, but her husband arrived as well. She was surprised and shocked.
“I broke down in tears,” Rainville said and tears up again in the retelling. “It’s just such an honor to be recognized by your peers for the hard work that we all do. We all work so hard. It’s just a very humbling experience to be around so many teachers with years of experience who have touched my life so much and helped me become the teacher that I am. I’m overwhelmed with emotion and very honored.”
Rainville said it was always her dream as a little girl to become a teacher, but in college she changed course and earned a bachelor of science degree in community health education. She went to work at the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District as its first public education officer. Then known as Monica Adams, she worked at the district for four years and met her future husband, Captain Greg Rainville.
As part of her job with the fire district, she was often on school campuses like Solana Santa Fe’s, presenting the fire safety education program she developed to the students. Increasingly, she felt like she wanted to contribute more toward the greater good of the community and it was her husband who encouraged her to go back to school and become a teacher after seeing how much she enjoyed being on campus with the students.
“I really feel like my experience outside of teaching has allowed me to teach from a different lens,” said Rainville, who also worked for nonprofits and private corporations. This is Rainville’s seventh year teaching. She started her career teaching kindergarten in the Vista Unified School District, but has been with the Solana Beach District for the last six years, also teaching kindergarten at Solana Vista School for one of those years.
She said it was hard to leave Solana Vista because she loved the close-knit campus and the warm teachers, but she had the opportunity for a new challenge at a new grade level with fourth grade, right when Solana Santa Fe was starting to work with one-to-one ipad deployments.
“The carrot was dangled,” she said.
Rainville said she does miss the joy and magic of kindergarten and will sometimes walk the kindergarten hallway and feel nostalgic from the scent of crayons and paint. But she does appreciate the fourth grade level as well, as her “super sweet and loving” 9 and 10 year olds are transitioning to that upper elementary age.
“I get to prepare them to be organized, responsible for learning and get them ready for the next steps,” Rainville said. “It’s amazing the conversations we have in here…last week we had a candid conversation about college and they brought it up.”
Rainville teaches with a lot of energy in class. She said they laugh and sing made-up songs, but she also runs a pretty tight ship. She said one former student described her as “firm but fun.”
Rainville said she’s always planting little seeds and giving the kids key nuggets she hopes they will take with them. Along with Wooden’s Pyramid that she loves, she teaches affirmations such as “Every challenge offers a gift” and “Everyone has the resources to be successful,” and sticks the inspirational words on posters around her room.
Rainville loves to read out loud to her students, novels that align with what they’re learning in California history this year. She said it’s great to have technology at their fingertips to visualize what the author is portraying. Last week when the kids couldn’t quite picture what a character looked like wearing a bowler hat and a broad cloth coat in the Gold Rush, they were able to look it up on their ipads.
Implementing the new Common Core State Standards has been a big change and a challenge, but Rainville said she feels very supported by the district in terms of professional learning.
“I’ve seen a very positive shift in the learning of students since we dove into the Common Core mindset of depth of knowledge, perseverance and critical thinking. It’s great to see the growth from September to April,” Rainville said.
Rainville has a firm belief to set the bar high and enjoys watching her students meet the challenge to achieve it.
She has found a family at Solana Santa Fe and values her fourth grade team, fellow teachers, aids, administration and the health clerk, so essential for a kindergarten teacher to provide Band-Aids for kids’ oft-scraped knees. She’ said she is also grateful for the parents who are so involved and willing to volunteer and take leadership roles. Rainville said the respect and support from parents and staff make Solana Santa Fe a very special place to be and allows her to enjoy her job that much more.
“It’s a hard job but it’s such an intrinsically rewarding job and my ultimate goal is to see fourth graders off with a smile to the next grade level and watch them continue to grow and be the greatest successes in life that they can be,” Rainville said.
Only seven years in, Rainville said she’s just getting started.