Like a lighthouse, directing ships to safety through stormy seas, Karina Antonio ’20 & ’22 has assumed a similar role as a mentor for children navigating through an ocean of uncertainty with the English language.
After graduating with a degree in early childhood / childhood education in 2020, Antonio spent a year working as a pre-school teacher, before returning to SUNY Potsdam in the fall of 2021 to pursue a master’s degree in literacy. A first-generation college student, and the first person in her family to receive a master’s degree, Antonio’s passion for education is fueled by her desire to see her students succeed, in the same way that she did in her youth.
“I didn’t like literacy growing up and I had trouble with reading and writing. English is my second language, I learned Spanish first,” Antonio said. “I was in the reading room where they helped me with comprehension skills, writing skills, everything to do with literacy. From receiving reading services to where I am now, working as a Title I Literacy Specialist, it’s nice to see that growth.”
Antonio has come full circle. This semester she is taking five graduate courses in education, while also teaching at Parishville-Hopkinton Central School, a paid internship that has allowed her to work one-on-one with students in the reading room. “We get to perform assessments with them, and implement intervention strategies,” she said. “Working with one student, my first grader, I can see that growth throughout the academic school year. Now, he’s like, ‘Oh, this is easy, I know how to read, I’m getting smarter.’ It’s just amazing to see that. It makes me feel like I’m doing my job correctly.”
The hands-on opportunities, to work directly with elementary students, dates to her senior year in high school. As part of an internship, she was placed in a local kindergarten classroom to see if the field of education was a good fit for her. It clicked right away, and she set her sights on five colleges that would help her realize her dream. She was accepted to all of them, and chose SUNY Potsdam because of the College’s reputation as a leader in teacher education, and the fact that they offered a dual certification in early childhood / childhood education, something that she said other colleges didn’t offer.
Antonio has continued to thrive at SUNY Potsdam. At the heart of her success has been a network of professors and alumni like Carolyn Stone, her favorite professor, who instilled in her a passion for writing that she had never known before. Dr. Walter Conley, who taught a biology class specifically for education students, also made an impact on her growth as a teacher. “I never knew that I liked biology, but he made it fun,” she said. “He always emails me about how I’m doing. He really is my role model and he makes me feel welcome here all the time.”
Starting her junior year, Antonio completed her Block I and Block II placements, the first opportunity for teacher education students to work in local elementary and middle schools. In her second placement, she met SUNY Potsdam alumnus David Vroman ’83 & ‘91, a sixth-grade science teacher at A.A. Kingston Middle School in Potsdam. “I loved working with Mr. Vroman. He’s a really good teacher, and I learned a lot from him. The first day, he said, ‘You’re ready to teach.’ I was nervous, but he encouraged me and motivated me to do well,” Antonio recalled.
Her senior year, she started student teaching at Brasher Falls Central School, an even more in-depth experience to take the reins and teach the curriculum completely on her own. After receiving her undergraduate degree, Antonio was offered a fulltime position as the lead pre-school teacher at Cadence Education preschool & daycare. Noticing how her three-year-old students were making the connection between letters and sounds at such a young age, piqued her interest in literacy, and was one of the reasons she decided to return to her alma mater for an M.S.Ed. in Literacy.
As she completes her master’s degree, she will be even more prepared to meet the needs of students in the classroom. “Being a literacy specialist will open doors. Reading teachers are in high demand at schools, so I could be a literacy coach,” Antonio said. “But my dream job is to be a pre-k or kindergarten teacher. I feel confident now when I stand in front of a classroom. Once you leave SUNY Potsdam, you’re ready for your own classroom.”
To learn more about the teacher education program, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/academics/SOEPS/teacher-education
Article and photos by Jason Hunter