COLLINSVILLE — For some students, teachers are part of their life for that particular year the student is in school. For others, teachers do more than teach a subject. They coach, they advise, they serve as role models and sometimes they are rewarded for their efforts.
Kayla Stevenson, a 2009 Collinsville High School alumnus, nominated Tanjanika Foster, who teaches seventh-grade math at Collinsville Middle School, for one of the Challenger Learning Center of St. Louis’ Inspiring Teacher Awards.
“Kayla was a CMS student almost 20 years ago!” noted Kim Collins, the district’s public liaison. “She and Tanjie still have a personal connection today. Kayla joined the military right out of high school and has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She’s a mom of two and Kayla is now back in school, studying to become a respiratory therapist [at SWIC].”
Collins added that Foster coached Stevenson through life’s ups and downs.
“She’s been an integral part of my life and she’s been on the path to pushing me forward,” Stevenson said last Friday. “She was my cheerleader.”
Stevenson said she found a notice of the award on Facebook and nominated Foster for it.
“Two weeks later we were talking about something else and Tanjie asked me if I had nominated her for something,” Stevenson said. Her former student admitted she had nominated her for the award.
“I don’t expect any rewards,” Foster told his former student. “I like what I do.”
“I know you don’t expect it, but you deserve it,” Kayla said. “All of these teachers are doing it, especially in these times we’re living in now.”
“She was an outstanding mentor,” Stevenson. “I was shy and I had a bit of a rough upbringing and I didn’t feel like I was going to go very far. She made me believe that I could go anywhere I wanted. She’s actually stayed with me ever since.
Stevenson said Foster was the same with her and other students, past and present.
“She’s a very outspoken and outgoing person and she doesn’t believe giving up is an option,” Stevenson recalled. “She gave me hope, not only academically, but as a parent. I think, thanks to her and the mentorship over the years, I have become an exceptional person.
Stevenson added that Foster remains an incredible teacher. She takes several hours out of her day outside of class to continue teaching.
“She was there when I adopted my children; she was there for me to encourage me and through the spine even after the loss of my little brother last September,” she said. “There’s no way to thank her enough for all she’s done. There will never be a way to pay it back.
On Jan. 27, the Challenger Center hosted a virtual event for the seven winners, Foster, a retired teacher from Nokomis, Illinois, four from neighboring school districts of Hazelwood and Jennings in St. Louis County, and one from DeSoto, Missouri.
The Challenger Learning Center is in the Ferguson-Florissant School District in northern St. Louis County. The center is part of a network founded by the family of astronauts who were aboard the space shuttle Challenger when it disintegrated on January 28, 1986, shortly after launch. The center engages people of all ages in space mission simulations, science, technology, engineering, and math programs, and team-building experiences.
“It’s a great organization and it’s really good to see all they do,” Stevenson said.
“Such kind words… is that me?” Foster joked when it was his turn to speak. “I love Kayla, she was one of my students at the very beginning of my teaching career and one of the things I discovered very early in life was that you connect with people. children not just in math. Building relationships with children is just as important as being a good teacher.
“Tanjie has been there for me for 20 years,” Stevenson said. “Good times bad times. Honestly, I don’t know where some of the other students would be today without her.
“It’s a great story of how one teacher can influence a student for the rest of their life,” Collins said.