May 05, 2010
Native daughter teaches teens accountability.
LEFT: As he navigates his teenage ship through the intrepid waters of Teton Middle School, Sam Johnston has found an anchor with instructor Tracey Mae Gonsalves, a paraprofessional with the School District who also volunteers as a tutor. CITIZEN PHOTO / JEANNETTE BONER
For anyone who was ever a student of anything, there were teachers. Among those teachers, there was usually one who stands out, a memory of the mentor who pushed a little harder to inspire the best and the brightest from within.
For Jill Johnston of Victor, that teacher has been Tracey Mae Gonsalves, who tutors Johnston’s son, Sam, after school along with five other boys.
“The little gifts we gave her and the thank-yous didn’t seem enough,” Johnston said. “I think she needs to be recognized for making a difference, because I really think she’ll be the teacher Sam recognizes when he accepts the Nobel Peace Prize or something — she’s that lady.”
Gonsalves, or Miss Mae, as the students call her, is a special education paraprofessional at Teton Middle School.
A Teton Valley native and a recent graduate of Boise State, she taught briefly in Boise after graduating before accepting her first full-year teaching job this year in Driggs. Gonsalves has her teaching certificate, but wanted to teach in Teton Valley so she accepted a paraprofessional job until another teaching position opens up.
In her job as a paraprofessional, Gonsalves works one-on-one with a developmentally disabled young woman. She accompanies this young woman to her classes, and during class she noticed a number of students who seemed to have a lot of potential, but who were not doing well in their classes.
“I guess you’d call them ‘at risk’,” Gonsalves said of the six seventh-graders who she is currently tutoring, unpaid, after school. “They seem to be different to the point where the teachers don’t necessarily all jive with them — they get in trouble a lot.
“It has nothing to do with lack of intelligence,” she said. “I saw their fi rst quarter grades, and they were failing classes they were clearly smarter than the average kid in. It wasn’t acceptable.”
Gonsalves said she tutors the group of teens on a variety of subjects, but she said the most important lesson she tries to instill in them is accountability.
“They knew the information, but their grades weren’t showing it,” she said.
“Their grades were poor because they weren’t getting anything turned in. The discrepancy was getting the homework done and turned in, and that’s what I’m doing, is making sure they get it turned in.
“I want them to learn how to be independent,” Gonsalves said. “I want them to learn you can still be different, be your own person, and still do well in school. It’s cool to get A’s, it’s cool to do well — it’s cool to graduate.”
Johnston said her son and the others are learning Gonsalves’ lesson.
“It’s unbelievable what she’s done for my son,” said Johnston. “She’s given [all six boys] the confidence that they are smart and capable, and that they can do this work and get good grades and go on to do whatever they want.
“Ultimately they’re responsible for their decisions,” Johnston said. “But they can make the right decisions and be responsible. Some of these kids don’t have a lot of confidence — she’s turned that around for them.”
“This last report card came out, and they almost all got A’s and B’s. They just beamed. They all were so proud of themselves. Before, it was cooler to get the F’s than A’s and B’s.”
Gonsalvez said she volunteers her time with these students (and extends an open invitation to any other student who needs her help) because she feels strongly about donating time and effort, having been taught that ethic by her parents. But she said she also has a personal interest in helping these kids out.
“I ran around with kind of a rough group in high school, and nobody helped them,” she said. “When I was in high school, one of my friends died. He made a bad decision. Maybe if he’d had a positive role model, or some type of academic influence, maybe it would have been different.”
Gonsalvez said that making a difference in these kids’ lives is a great reward for a winter’s worth of after-school volunteering.
“When their grades came out, and their grades were ten times better than before they saw me, it was like Christmas,” she said. “I didn’t want to see them slip through the cracks. They’re going to pass seventh grade.”Nominate Valley Citizen of the Month of May, Tracey Mae Gonsalves, received a night’s lodging at the Teton Springs Lodge and Spa.
Citizen staff will choose an individual or group each month highlighting exceptional work or character based on your nominations. Teton Springs Lodge and Spa will recognize the Citizen of the Month with a similar gift from the resort. Please send your June nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 208-354-NEWS.