Above Mrs. Overman’s desk in her classroom at CIRCLE Academy hangs a picture of dandelions painted by her mother.
"When my siblings and I were younger, we would always bring dandelions to my mother," she explained. "While dandelions are actually weeds, we saw them as flowers."
Seeing beauty, when others may not, has stuck with Mrs. Overman throughout her life and in her career. As a teacher in public schools for over 34 years, including serving as a principal during that time, Mrs. Overman has made a commitment to educating youth. This year marks her first full school year at CIRCLE.
Youth who participate in our CIRCLE Academy Education Programs in Urbana and Rossville live with their families in surrounding communities. They have unique behavioral and emotional challenges which have prevented them from being successful in a public school environment. Our therapeutic education model identifies the individual needs and strengths of each student and builds on those strengths, both academically and behaviorally. The goal is to help students progress and be able to successfully return to public school.
"I set the bar high," she said, "because I have worked at public schools and I want these kids to be prepared for what will be expected of them academically and behaviorally once they return to public school."
Mrs. Overman has a unique approach in how she runs her classroom or "school family" as she prefers to call it. Her focus is on the entire classroom unit being successful, involved and accountable.
"We do family voting," Meredith, a paraeducator who assists in Mrs. Overman’s class, said, "The teachers have the final say but students get to have a vote on classroom decisions."
The ability for students to have an active role in decisions helps them feel respected and gives them a strong sense for making choices that better their education and their day as a whole. For example, each Monday, student names are drawn which decides the order they choose their "flexible seating" for that week. Options include an array of bean bags and yoga balls located throughout the classroom. While traditional seats are still used during the day, this gives students the opportunity to have input about their learning environment.
Mrs. Overman’s approach to teaching is firm, direct and loving. Her response to student behavior is not to correct the negative, but to use positive statements that enforce the good. Comments like, "I like how your hands are at your side when you walk," "Way to get back on track!" or "Touchdown, good job!" encourage positive behavior by pointing out the responsible decisions they are making to excel in their day.
"I love it!" Mara* enthusiastically proclaimed when asked about Mrs. Overman’s class. "It’s the best class I have ever been in," the young girl said with a wide-eyed smile. Leo*, one of Mara’s classmates, agrees. "She’s a good teacher," he said.
Ownership of education with a high focus on literacy is also a big aspect of Mrs. Overman’s classroom. Throughout the day, you may hear a student or teacher yell, DEAR!— short for Drop Everything And Read. And no matter what students are doing at that time, they pick up their book and start to read.
Mrs. Overman has also transformed the breakout room in her classroom into a small library where students use a form to check out books and the kids have really responded.
"I love that they love it," she said with a smile.
In that library sits a picture of Mrs. Overman’s mom whose painting is a reminder to always see the beauty even when others don’t.
"I tell my students, I see flowers when I look at you," Mrs. Overman said.
*names have been changed to protect the privacy of our youth