A Columbus special education teacher wants all of her students to succeed at whatever they do in life.

Kristen Chitty’s commitment to them extends well past the final bell of the school day. On any given night, the Columbus Signature Academy — Fodrea teacher will receive a phone call or text message from parents whose students have questions or need help with their assignments.

When Chitty receives such a call, she tries to provide whatever assistance may be needed — as having an open line of communication with students’ families is important, she said.

Her willingness and ability to help students learn earned Chitty the annual Edna V. Folger Outstanding Teacher Award, presented March 1 at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting to Bartholomew County’s top teacher.

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“We want them to be happy and independent and successful as possible,” Chitty said of the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students she works with. “They’re very hard working and they have goals and aspirations like every traditional student.”

Unlike most elementary teachers, however, Chitty does not have her own classroom. Instead of students coming to her, she goes to them.

Chitty has a set schedule that is established at the beginning of the school year that is dependent on students’ needs, spelled out in their individualized education program. Chitty is working with 23 students this year, many of whom are on grade-level curriculum material.

Chitty often receives classroom work in advance from students’ classroom teachers, which allows her to customize it for her students’ needs. That may involve putting assignments on a computer through a read-to-text program or voice-to-text program, she said.

Chitty said she takes an individualized approach with her students, noting that large-group instruction is not always effective for everyone. Despite some challenges the students might face at times, she looks for and sees great potential in them.

“They struggle to be successful with their peers, and not a day goes by where they don’t give it everything they’ve got,” said Chitty, 49, an educator for 28 years, including the past seven at CSA-Fodrea.

Teaching life lessons

Considering the number of excellent teachers within the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., Chitty said she was honored to receive the Folger award, named for a Columbus High School math teacher who retired more than 50 years ago. The award is intended to promote awareness of the influence teachers have on students and to recognize the image of the teacher as a community role model.

Chitty’s inspiration to become a teacher came from her sixth-grade instructor, Barb Wilsey, who had two special-needs students in her classroom. Chitty took notice of how Wilsey treated the pair of students, saying that she made them feel special, like everyone else.

“I wanted to be able to impact students that way as well,” Chitty said.

She was able to take away some important life lessons from Wilsey, who also served as her track and cross-country coach, Chitty said.

“She taught me that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your struggles are academically. You can do anything you set your mind to,” she said. “As a coach, she instilled in me that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything.”

Chitty also followed her late mother, Judy Doba, an educator for about 40 years, into the profession.

“She always did more than what a traditional teacher would do,” Chitty said of her mother.

Susanne Diehn, a fourth-grade teacher at CSA-Fodrea, has noticed how Chitty interacts with students in the classroom.

Diehn described Chitty as a gifted and caring educator who relates well with students and parents.

“She’s very good at what she does,” Diehn said.

Chitty was also recognized as Teacher of the Year in 2013 by The ARC of Bartholomew County, an agency that works with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Chitty said she works to connect with her students to shape their overall development, she said.

“The stronger the bond, the more successful a student can be,” Chitty said. “The more you know about them, they’ll be more respectful of what you need (them) to do.”

Learning from her students

Chitty said she has also been able to develop strong working relationships with teachers at CSA-Fodrea that allows her stay up-to-date on course material and upcoming projects for the students she works with.

While teaching has remains her top priority, Chitty said her students have also allowed her to gain a better understanding about them as individuals.

“They’ve taught me it doesn’t matter what your disability is. They have a lot of abilities,” Chitty said. “They remind me often how to be more patient and I think they remind me of what life is like from their perspective all the time.”

But making a difference remains her main focus, a mission shared with many of her teaching colleagues within the district.

“If you do it well, you affect so many people,” she said.

Kristen Chitty

Career: Educator for 28 years, assigned to Columbus Signature Academy – Fodrea campus since 2010. Special education teacher at Bloomington South High School in Bloomington, 1990 to 1997. Worked at Evansville Central High School for five years as a special education teacher before coming to Columbus. Adult education instructor with Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. for four years, helping to prepare students for GED exam.

Education: Graduated from the University of Evansville with a bachelor’s degree in special education; master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Family: Husband Brent Chitty, varsity boys’ basketball coach at Columbus East High School. Daughter Taylor, graduate of Columbus East and Florida Southern College. Son Parker, graduated of Columbus East, attends Eastern Kentucky University.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com