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Rookie teachers grateful for their Catholic school educations

Isabel Burnett, a math teacher at Ascension School in Overland Park, helps seventh graders Elizabeth Schultz and Mannie Fasching with their classwork. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

by Jan Dixon
Special to The Leaven

LEAWOOD — They spent nine years of their lives learning together at Church of the Nativity School here.

Now, three young women have taken up the torch as teachers in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Bridget Koeppen attended Nativity, Notre Dame de Sion High School in Kansas City, Missouri, and the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

During her student teaching experience at Holy Cross School in Overland Park, Koeppen fell in love with the idea of teaching in a Catholic school.

“I wanted to be a teacher because of my teachers at Nativity,” she said. “After attending Catholic school all through elementary and high school and then student teaching in one, I could not imagine teaching without talking about God and praying with students.”

Bridget Koeppen attended Church of the Nativity School in Leawood and now teaches at Holy Cross School in Overland Park. COURTESY PHOTO

And that is exactly what she does every day with her Holy Cross sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

Isabel Burnett attended Nativity, St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, and the University of Missouri in Columbia.

She always knew she wanted to be a teacher. But being a math teacher was not on her radar until her middle school years.

“Mr. Bill Powers made math fun and understandable, and I wanted to be a teacher just like him,” said Burnett. “And that started me on an advanced math track through high school and college.”

Isabel Burnett, teaches math at Ascension School in Overland Park. She was inspired by her middle school math teacher, Bill Powers, during her time at Nativity Parish School in Leawood. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Upon completion of a secondary math degree, Burnett chose to teach at Church of the Ascension School in Overland Park.

“Catholic school was a big part of my education,” she said. “I liked having religion integrated into all subjects. Teaching in a Catholic school was an easy choice for me.”

Natalie Hagedorn attended Nativity and Notre Dame de Sion. She always enjoyed working with young children, and during high school, she participated in community service and volunteer opportunities.

It was while helping in a multi-aged classroom at Operation Breakthrough that her interest in teaching grew.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Kansas and accepted a fourth- grade teaching position at Curé of Ars School in Leawood.

Natalie Hagedorn graduated from the University of Kansas in Lawrence and now teaches at Curé of Ars School in Leawood. COURTESY PHOTO

“The Catholic faith has always been a big part of my life,” said Hagedorn. “Teaching in a Catholic school in the archdiocese was the best way for me to continue to grow in my faith.”

The team of middle school teachers that inspired Burnett, Hagedorn and Koeppen to become Catholic school teachers has been together at Nativity for many years.

“We have always tried to treat our middle school students as young adults, giving them a voice and respect,” said Stephanie Fournier, language arts teacher at Nativity. “We have given them options and opportunities to prepare them to be lifelong learners.”

Nativity’s faculty fostered a caring community where their students made connections and felt a sense of belonging.

“After going to school every day together for nine years, we really knew each other very well,” said Burnett. “That was important for me.”

During their years as students in Catholic schools, these first-year teachers developed deep roots in their faith.

Now, they teach in Catholic schools out of love for their students, the church and the Lord. They don’t teach because their students are Catholic — they teach because they are Catholic.

Witnessing the growth of her students’ faith at Holy Cross strengthens Koeppen’s own faith and motivates her to share it even more.

Teaching math and building a faith-filled classroom of Ascension students inspires Burnett to want to be a model of faith.

Being part of the faithful community at Curé of Ars School sparks excitement in Hagedorn about her Catholic identity.

At Nativity, these students grew in faith because they were taught by passionate teachers. They learned how to achieve and live for others.

Now they, as Catholic school teachers in the archdiocese, will inspire another generation of students to do the same.

About the author

Jan Dixon

Jan Dixon grew up in Kansas City where she attended Catholic grade school and high school. After college graduation and marriage, she and Greg lived in Springfield, Missouri and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and finally settled in Olathe, KS where they raised three sons. Jan taught kindergarten through high school for 37 years before retiring. She and Greg are members of St. Paul in Olathe.

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