Two students who finished their Angleton High School careers in the top 10 of their graduating class credited an AP geography teacher with keeping them on the path to success and doing the same with countless others.
“I think after all these years, she’s made an impact on everyone’s life that goes through Angleton High School, and I felt this was the least I could do for her,” said Aaron Black, the Class of 2022 valedictorian, as he thanked teacher Monica Kotrla for making the greatest impact on his education.
After Black issued his praise Thursday morning, fellow Top-10 graduate Miranda Blaha later delivered a second round of it for Kotrla during the fifth annual Top Cat Cafe Foundation breakfast. Blaha missed the event because she had an exam to take, but said via video Kotrla’s pre-AP and AP geography classes set up her grades for the rest of her school career and made her a better student.
The double tribute touched Kotrla.
“This is overwhelming because we do the job we do for the kids, because we’re here for the kids,” she said. “So when they reciprocate that, you know you’re here for the right reasons. These are great kids and they work their butt off to get here, and when they honor you and recognize how you work, it’s mind-blowing.”
Every student in the Top 10 is honored at the breakfast, sponsored by the Angleton ISD Education Foundation, and in turn honors an educator pivotal to their success. To Black, his class ranking was a team effort.
“I’ve worked hard to be valedictorian, and her ways of teaching have helped me get close to perfect grades,” he said. “I couldn’t be more thankful for her,” Black said.
Black’s twin brother, Abel, chose to honor his eighth-grade math teacher and swim coach, Jeannie Healy.
“Coach Healy pushed me to be the person I am today,” Abel Black said. “She has been with me since I was 9 years old and has been a mentor for me throughout the years. I had her as a teacher and then as an assistant swim coach, so I couldn’t escape her.”
Like many of the honored teachers that day, Healy was humbled by the experience.
“This means everything to me and is the reason why teachers go into the profession to begin with,” she said. “To be able to help somebody, and I’ve known Abel since he was young — I was surprised, honored and humbled by him having chosen me. It’s amazing.”
Because inspiration can come from anywhere, salutatorian Kyla Lindsey decided to honor her elementary school librarian, Shelley McCoy.
“I came to Rancho in second grade and I didn’t like to read, but then I fell in love with reading and always wanted to be the top reader. I made so many memories in the library,” Lindsey said. “I was always there and Mrs. McCoy made a great impact on me to jumpstart my learning.”
The librarian was surprised by the impact she had.
“It would be impossible to say in words what it means to me that she thought that far back–that I made a difference,” McCoy said. “I am very honored. The fact she thought of me is overwhelming.”
Lucy Muguerza also went back to her elementary school days for her honoree, choosing her Southside fifth-grade English teacher, Justin Collard.
“Mr. Collard has been inspiring to me and always encouraged me to be a great reader,” Muguerza said. “It’s an honor to have him here to celebrate my accomplishments. He has always been kind and inspiring to me. … He made reading so much fun that it was OK to read through a boring science textbook.”
Now Angleton High School’s assistant principal, Collard said Muguerza made an equal impact on him.
“The pride in any teacher’s and educator’s heart is the students they can serve,” he said. “Lucy has been an awesome student. Not only does it make me happy to see her succeed, but it warms my heart that she chose me to have a big impact on her life. It means a lot to be recognized in this way.”
A teacher never quite knows how they will impact their student, and it might not always be in the classroom. That’s the case with Barbie Hicks, a former Algebra II teacher who is now the high school assistant principal.
“She had an impact on me because she’s the person I would go to for anything,” senior Anahi Garcia said. “She was dependable in my life. I was struck with a hard time sophomore year because my brother passed away and it took a toll on me and my grades. She helped us sort everything out and we looked at her more like a family friend.”
Hicks was affected by the presentation.
“It’s an honor because she’s worked so hard to get to where she is, and to think I had that impact on a young person’s life, it’s honoring,” Hicks said.
Senior Cailyn Brown recognized her physics teacher, Kimberly Smith.
“I chose Mrs. Smith because she was the best class I had throughout high school,” Brown said. “We have so much fun in her class and she’s a great teacher and an awesome person,” Smith said. “She teaches physics, but I didn’t choose her because of her content, but moreso what she’s taught me in class, like how to be diligent in my work.”
This was Smith’s first time attending the event, she said.
“She is one of the best students I’ve ever had and her being so young and how confident and driven she is — she’s going places,” Smith said.
London Whitney found her government class, especially challenging and chose Kasey Henson for how she helped him navigate the difficult content, she said.
“I chose Henson because in class we wrote a lot and everything we read influenced me,” Whitney said. “Her class was hard. It was a senior-level class and I took it as a sophomore. It was a hard class, but it prepared me and motivated me to do better.”
Henson pointed out Whitney already was an impressive student.
“She was one of my strongest writers,” Henson said. “Sometimes during the end of her sophomore year, I had to dig deep and look at her writing and think how could I help her further. I teach AP, but it was like I was teaching a college student already with her. For her to nominate me was a surprise.”
Ryan Fojtik honored Angela Sims, now principal at Angleton Junior High, for pushing him to always do his best assistant, he said.
“She taught me AP language and competition my sophomore year,” Fojtik said. “I picked her because she wouldn’t let me slack off, and that made an impact on my education because I have that tendency.”
As the students look toward their future, one lesson Cade McCall will take with him is to never procrastinate, something he learned as a freshman from Algebra I teacher Linda Jo Huff.
“It was a shock to be chosen and a true honor,” Huff said. “He is a student that will always have a place in my heart. I’m super proud of him. It’s been a tough year for everyone’s education, so to have this reminder, that I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
Making sure teachers know the impact they are making is an important part of the Top Cat Café breakfast, Education Foundation Executive Director Laurin Moore said.
“The only way a top 10 student can get in the position they’re in is that they have teachers supporting them along the way,” Moore said. “During this event, we want to give the student a chance to honor that teacher who has been that support system for their school life.”
Raven Wuebker is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0152.