Traci Kemper is the Department Chair in Language Arts and Social Studies in the 6th grade at the Edna Hill Middle School in the Brentwood Union School District.

By the time they have reached the 6th grade, many of Traci’s students have never done well in< school and are not expecting to succeed in 6th grade either. So, in Traci’s classroom, students line up every morning to receive their choice of one the three H’s. That would be a Handshake, a High five, or a Hug. Each student starts the day with a smile, physical contact, and the knowledge that someone cares.

Traci’s classroom is set up by SUCCESS Partners, which stands for Students Uniting to Cooperate and Challenge Each other for Student Success. Students are partnered with each other to work together in class, check homework, and perform “success checks” throughout the day. In this way, each student has a peer to connect with and get help if needed.

In Traci’s classroom, hard work never goes unnoticed. Whether big or small, each achievement is celebrated by high-fives, notes or phone calls home, notes to the students themselves, or even a trip to the candy drawer.

Traci makes sure that she can celebrate her students’ achievements outside the classroom as well. She attends their theater productions and their sporting events. She participates in Boy Scouts, food collecting and Relay for Life walkathons. She chaperones student dances and attends all extracurricular school events that she can.

Traci spent countless hours working on a team to develop an innovative 6th grade program called the Individual Learning Plan. Very generally, this is a student-specific strategy that takes into account each student’s strengths and weaknesses, develops long term goals, and incorporates them into the larger educational framework. The program became such a powerful learning tool for students and parents alike, the entire school district adopted it as a tool for the elementary sites as well.

More than anything, Traci has a remarkable ability to identify a student need and implement a thoughtful solution. As we all know, 6th grade can be an awkward time. Many students can’t afford the latest in fashion or perhaps even an ensemble that fits. So Traci began to collect clothes throughout the year – some new, some almost new. She set up a “shop” in a vacant classroom where students can browse privately for a new outfit free of charge. There is no shame attached to selecting a wardrobe from this room. It is advertised for students who are simply “too busy to shop,” but it is really for those students who can’t afford to buy clothes.

When Traci was nominated for this award, we received a flood of letters in support. One student, whose spelling was exemplary, summed it up as follows: “Mrs. Kemper should SO win this award!”

Traci’s principal told us that she has become the “model for success on the quarterly final exams.” He said, “This model for success is the result of countless hours of preparation, communication with colleagues and families, and understanding her role as a teacher. She is the primary mover and shaker on our team, which has been selected as a state model middle school by the California Department of Education.”