A couple of Washington Middle School students were surprised recently to see their names in The Missourian. It was simply a listing of the school’s honor roll, but it surprised them because they didn’t know that kind of information was printed in the newspaper.

They were equally as surprised to see a number of people they knew in photos of hunters posing with their deer and to learn that Mercy Hospital Washington offers “car seat checks.”

That last discovery prompted a discussion with their teacher, Linda Sentivany, about what car seat checks are and why they are necessary. The students had been searching The Missourian for answers to questions on a scavenger hunt assignment Sentivany had given them.

It’s an assignment the students enjoy and often expands the learning experience.

Sentivany welcomes opportunities like the car seat check discussion in her classroom and knows using the newspaper is an easy way to make them happen. As an ELL or English Language Learner teacher, Sentivany works with students who may not have been born in America or who are living in a household where a language other than English is spoken.

That means they may not instinctively know or understand certain vocabulary words, social events or cultural cues that other American children do, Sentivany noted. They may need more time or more explanation to grasp the information.

“We may spend more time on vocabulary or we may be reading the same book they are in the other class, but we focus more on the figurative language, idioms,” said Sentivany.

The newspaper, with its continually changing content and wide variety of information, is an ideal learning tool for these kind of lessons, but Sentivany also likes it because it’s an excellent source of useful and pertinent information.

“I want them to see what the newspaper offers,” Sentivany remarked, “to see the different activities going on around town, to know where to look if they need information on something.

“Having that familiarity with the newspaper will be helpful to them . . . and when they are using it, they don’t think of it as a lesson because it’s fun.”

This staunch support of the newspaper as an education resource is just one of the many reasons why Sentivany has been selected as the 2012 Missourian In Education Teacher of the Year.

“There aren’t many tools as beneficial to English language learners than a community newspaper — it’s real life,” said Dawn Kitchell, education services director at The Missourian. “Many teachers use the newspaper to reinforce skills they’re teaching in the classroom, but Linda takes it a step further and uses the newspaper to teach authentic reading.”

Sentivany also stands out among educators for her unequivocal support of The Missourian’s Book Buzz Youth Literacy Program which offers three children’s book recommendations each month and accepts book reviews on those titles from students, selecting one for each title to be printed in the paper.

The Book Buzz program began 10 years ago this fall, when Sentivany was working as a library paraprofessional at several Washington elementary schools.

From the beginning, she was encouraging students to actively participate in the program, highlighting the Book Buzz Picks in her libraries and encouraging students to write reviews on them, even going so far as to help them if they needed it.

“I remember the displays she would make promoting each monthly Pick’s book cover,” said Kitchell.

“Feature stories about visiting authors were laminated and hung around the library. And she’d make sure she met those authors in person and had them sign the library copies of the books they’d written. She worked with students in all grades to submit book reviews, and when their reviews were selected for the newspaper, she photographed the children and made displays recognizing them.

“She sent tremendous thank-you notes to her school’s Book Buzz donor, the Washington Rotary Club — often they were signed by every child in the school. She really was a role model for others on how infectious the Book Buzz project was for kids when the adults embraced it.”

For Sentivany, it’s important to emphasize to her students how fortunate they are to have groups like the Rotary Club willing to provide the Book Buzz Picks to their library each month.

“I tell them these books are something our library wouldn’t have without the Book Buzz program. Every month we get three new books!”

She feels the same way about sponsors of the Missourian In Education program who make it possible for her students and others to receive classroom newspapers each week.

“I really appreciate the businesses and individuals who provide the newspaper to the schools so teachers can incorporate the newspaper into their lessons,” Sentivany remarked.

Uses Paper Once a Week

Today, Sentivany, who also works with ELL students in Marthasville and Augusta elementary, uses the newspaper mostly with her middle school students. They use the paper in some form at least once a week.

In addition to the scavenger hunt, other activities she uses are having them find words in the newspaper that fit each of the parts of speech — noun, verb, adjective, adverb . . . — cut them out and paste them on a chart; looking for quotes and dialogue; summarizing an article; determining author’s purpose (persuade or inform); understanding the difference between first and third person writing style; and many of the Newspaper In Education features, like the segment on Veterans Day.

Sentivany also scans the paper each week looking for photos or articles featuring any of her students. Those items promptly get cut out and posted on the bulletin board.

Sentivany’s co-worker Jennifer Wirthwein, who teaches reading at Washington Middle School and was the 2006 Missourian In Education Teacher of the Year, said Sentivany works hard to find new ways of using the paper with her students.

“It’s exciting to see her students engrossed in the news. What a perfect way to study language, current events and culture,” Wirthwein told The Missourian.

“Every time I pass her classroom, I see students using the newspaper — at their desks, on the floor, even in the hallways.”

Sentivany and Wirthwein are two of several teachers at WMS who use the newspaper in the classroom. They all work together, sharing ideas on how to use the paper.

In addition to using the newspaper in her classroom, Sentivany also supports the Missourian In Education program by attending its many events throughout the year. Kitchell said Sentivany is a regular at annual events like Family Reading Night (always held the first Friday in March) and at the Run to Read, held each fall.

This year she also made a point of attending the Book Buzz 10th anniversary party held at the Washington library.

“I feel that it’s just such a good, positive program and to have gone 10 years is great,” said Sentivany.

“And the quality of books they recommend is great.”

It can be a time-consuming process for parents and caregivers to research and find good quality books for their children to read, so having three quality suggestions each month is wonderful, Sentivany commented.

One of the past picks, “The World According to Humphrey,” turned out to be an ideal book for her students because the characters included students from another country who didn’t speak English well. The story was about the classroom pet.

‘Commitment to Reading’

Sentivany started her career as a first-grade teacher at South Point Elementary.

When her first child was born, she put her career on hold to be a stay-at-home mom. She went on to have three children and once they were in school themselves, she was ready to return to school as well.

Unfortunately there weren’t any openings for teachers at the time, so Sentivany worked first as a substitute and later as a classroom para at South Point Elementary. From there she moved to working as a library paraprofessional at Marthasville, Washington West and Fifth Street elementary schools.

Next she worked as an ELL para and for the last four years she has been an ELL teacher.

As her career with the Washington School District evolved, Sentivany carried her “commitment to reading with her,” said Kitchell.

“Linda is one of those educators who dedicates herself to being the best she can be in whatever role she’s assigned. Teaching isn’t just a job for her, it’s a way she can make a difference in the lives of children.”

Recognizing Good Teachers

As the 2012 Missourian In Education Teacher of the Year, Sentivany will receive a $100 award, a one-year home subscription to The Missourian, and a framed copy of this feature story which will all be presented to her in January.

The Missourian has been recognizing a Missourian In Education Teacher of the Year since 2003. Kitchell said it’s just another way to recognize good teaching.

“Our Missourian In Education award recognizes teachers who use the newspaper in great ways, but I believe you won’t find a teacher who uses the newspaper who isn’t a great teacher,” Kitchell said. “So we’re recognizing some of the most outstanding teachers in our area communities.”

This year, more than 150 teachers in 44 area schools are participating in the Missourian In Education program. With help from community partners, The Missourian is delivering more than 3,000 student newspapers every week.

Inside the newspaper so far this year students have learned about the Constitution, voting, the history of Veterans Day, good books through the monthly Book Buzz column, and in today’s issue, Missouri history and art in the Missouri State Capitol. They also have access to the weekly Kid Scoop feature and Kid Scoop Online.

This January, The Missourian will participate in the annual statewide reading project, Reading Across Missouri, by publishing the eight-week serialized story on a mule, “Manny Kicks Long Ear Lore.” Other spring features will focus on gardening.

Past Missourian In Education Teachers of the Year are:

2003 — Lauri Link, Gerald Elementary.

2004 — Jennifer Hawkins, Edgar Murray School, St. Clair.

2005 — Sister Pat Gloriod, St. Vincent de Paul, Dutzow.

2006 — Jennifer Wirthwein, Washington Middle School.

2007 — Wynn Scheer, Fifth Street Elementary, Washington.

2008 — Ann Joyce, Our Lady of Lourdes, Washington.

2009 — Maria Kerr, Franklin County Special Education Cooperative, St. Clair.

2010 — Joan Obermark, Clearview Elementary, Washington.

2011 — Sheila Grgurich, St. John the Baptist-Gildehaus, Villa Ridge.