Often, Arien Striplin's students do their best learning when they don't realize they're learning at all. That's the thing about teaching the youngest grades: The lessons that are the most fun are often also the stickiest.
Tyler Gonce was a 5-year-old kindergarten student in Striplin's class in 2005. Now, she's planning to pursue a master's degree to become an elementary school teacher like Striplin.
"Whatever grade I end up teaching, I know Mrs. Striplin will be there for me along my path, just like she was that first day of kindergarten," Gonce said. "She formed the foundation of my education and is mentoring me to form the foundation of future generations. I cannot think of a more deserving teacher to receive this high honor!"
"Many times, my students do not even know they are learning and, as a result, the growth from the beginning of the year to the end is incredible," Striplin, Old Kings Elementary School's Teacher of the Year, wrote in her Teacher of the Year application statement. "They come into the classroom not knowing their letters, sounds, and how to write their names. They leave the classroom at the end of the year reading and writing paragraphs."
Striplin first began teaching in New York after earning a bachelor's in elementary education and a master's in childhood education at the State University of New York at Cortland College, then moved to the Flagler Schools system in 2004, teaching at Belle Terre Elementary and Bunnell Elementary, and, for a year, at a school in Maryland before she was hired at Old Kings Elementary in 2015.
At Old Kings, Striplin serves on the school's leadership team, mentoring fellow teachers and reviewing curriculum resources, and also tutors students before and after school, wrote Old Kings Elementary School Principal Katie Crooke.
"She consistently has the ability to connect and communicate a student-centered approach that fosters creativity, support, enthusiasm and growth," Crooke wrote.
Recent college grad Tyler Gonce first met Striplin in 2003, when Striplin went by the last name Baker. It was Striplin's first day as a teacher. It was Gonce's first day of kindergarten. After her mother and grandmother coaxed her into the classroom, Gonce recalled in a letter of reference for Striplin's Teacher of the Year application, everything seemed fine until it was time for them to leave — then, the tears started flowing
"Ms. Baker came to my rescue to comfort me and made me feel safe and secure as my family left," she wrote. "... Before I knew it, Ms. Baker had turned kindergarten into something I loved. She engaged us and made learning fun."
By 2018, Gonce was a sophomore in college studying elementary education, and she needed field hours. And, 15 years after the first day of kindergarten, Gonce was back in Striplin's class — this time as an observer, watching Striplin work with ESE and English language learning students.
"Mrs. Striplin has mentored me from my sophomore year of college through the present," she wrote. "... It is because of her that I decided to pursue my true passion of becoming an elementary school teacher, maybe even a kindergarten teacher like her."
Erin Andrews, a fourth-grade teacher at Old Kings Elementary, knows Striplin as both a fellow teacher and as a parent those son was in Striplin's class this past year.
"He grew confident with every new skill she taught him, coming home singing rhymes for all of his sight words and using hand gestures to remember his math skills," Andrews wrote in a letter of reference for Striplin's Teacher of the Year application. "... My adventurous and spirited wild child loved school and he loved his teacher. When we knew that school would not be resuming as normal after spring break, my heart hurt for my son. ... Despite the hurdles presented during the remainder of the school year, Mrs. Striplin made the transition seamless. ... Even being remote, Mrs. Striplin continued to grow a precious and remarkable relationship."
All students deserve support, encouragement, structure, and a positive role model, Striplin wrote.
"If students are given this, they will be successful learners throughout their schooling and you will see them grow into responsible independent adults."