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Parada named champion teacher by Uncommon Friends

By Staff | Dec 17, 2019

Julia Parada, a kindergarten teacher at North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts, has been named a champion teacher by the Uncommon Friends Foundation.

The award was presented during the Uncommon Evening at the Burroughs Home & Gardens on Nov. 14.

“I honestly love teaching and this is what I do, so I didn’t feel it was something I was expecting. This is my passion,” Parada said.

Parada uses the Uncommon Friends curriculum, which stresses character education, in her classroom so the students can thrive and be good citizens.

It’s the same thing she uses in her life. Prime example: It was NFMAA principal Thomas Millins who accepted the award on her behalf while Parada stayed at the school with her students, who were in a K-1 performance because that it was the best thing to do.

“The kids respond to that curriculum very well at an early age. It’s developmentally very important to instill that love of learning to build good character,” Parada said. “It teaches them to be patient and be kind and work well with others.”

Parada’s passion for education and special education began at home as she was raised by a single mother in New Jersey. Her youngest brother has dyslexia and struggled in school; she spent many nights working side by side with him and coming up with different learning strategies to help him succeed in school.

Parada discovered her passion and went to Rider University to earn her teaching degree before starting out as a third-grade teacher in New Jersey for two years, coming to Southwest Florida four years ago.

“There was an opening for a fifth-grade teacher when I applied, thinking I always wanted to teach the upper-elementary classes because of that sense of independency,” Parada said. “They offered me the opening in kindergarten and I took it and fell in love with the grade level.”

The Uncommon Friends curriculum is tailor-made for kindergartners because it is about life skills such as manners and common courtesy, and that they are so little and impressionable and love school and learning, Parada said.

She encourages her students to think creatively, to not give up, that mistakes are only proof that they are trying, and the words “I can’t” are not applicable in her class.

At NFMAA, Parada started this curriculum when Maggie Walters, a teacher at the school who nominated her for the award, had a granddaughter who was in her class three years ago. The child’s mother had passed away.

“I had to really teach her how to control her emotions, how to work in the classroom and with others and that’s when I introduced the Uncommon Friends curriculum,” Parada said.

It is something she has used ever since and it has worked wonders for these young students, as Millins has noticed.

“She has done an excellent job. She’s great with the kids and is very energetic and hard-working. We’re so happy we have her,” Millins said. “The curriculum has helped shape these kids and provides them with great guidance. Julia not only teaches it, but practices what she preaches.”