Empowering excellence

Academy teacher says empowering her students to be lifelong learners is of paramount importance to her.

Grosse Pointe Academy third-grade teacher Vanessa Leverenz says she thinks one of the most important aspects of her job is empowering students to be in charge of their own learning.

When Grosse Pointe Academy third-grade teacher Vanessa Leverenz first arrived on campus at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, she was rendered nearly speechless. However, she did manage to get out one word.

“Wow,” she remembers saying. “Simply ‘wow!’ As a teacher, it is truly amazing and a real privilege to be able to actually cater to your students needs as opposed to the standard testing way of doing things. At GPA, I am able to quickly adjust what and how I am teaching my students based on their always changing needs and interests. As a result, I think the growth that I’ve seen in all of my students in the relatively short time I’ve been here is huge! The small class sizes also is a factor in the immense growth I’m seeing in the kids each and every year. Plus, obviously, we are on a beautiful campus with bountiful resources.”

Plenty of smiles

The Academy isn’t Leverenz’s first teaching job, so she’s been able to benchmark her current school against others. Actually, three others.

“Previous to coming here, I taught for five years in Washington, DC, Pontiac and Harper Woods,” said Leverenz, who grew up in Grosse Pointe and attended Grosse Pointe public schools. “I have taught both third grade and second grade for the eight years of my teaching career thus far, but I specifically prefer teaching third grade because it is then that students are starting to work independently and developing their own little personalities. These kids put huge smiles on my face each and every day.”

Jennifer Kendall, who is the Academy’s assistant head of school for early and lower school education and director of curriculum, says Leverenz has brought plenty of smiles herself to the GPA family.

Leverenz holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from MSU and a master’s in athletic administration from Wayne State University.

“When Vanessa joined The Grosse Pointe Academy, she became an instant part of the GPA family,” Kendall said. “Plus, she has such a wonderful way of creating individualized learning opportunities within her classroom for each of her students.”

Those learning opportunities don’t just occur in Leverenz’s classroom by happenstance. In fact, she insists that her students take ownership of their own learning — even at such a young age.

Elementary inspiration

“I think one of the most important parts of my job is empowering my students to be in charge of their own learning,” she said. “Teaching them to take their own initiative and also getting them to realize that it’s okay if they don’t understand or know something right away. Then we can always take steps together so they gain understanding of what they’re interested in or something they find difficulty with. I think another important part of my job here is to build lasting relationships with not only my own third graders, but all the students in the school. I love that I know every kid’s name in our school and that my former students say hello to me on a regular basis.”

It seems that Leverenz, who holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from MSU and a master’s in athletic administration from Wayne State University, has in fact found her dream job in a career that seemed predestined from an early age.

“I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was in elementary school,” she said. “I’ve always loved working with children, so becoming a teacher seemed like the obvious career choice. My own all-time favorite teacher, Mrs. Therese Schrage, who teaches at Monteith Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Woods, really inspired me to follow my dreams of becoming a teacher. She made learning so much fun and from fourth grade on that I just knew I was going to be a teacher. I especially enjoyed my teachers who made school fun, which set a perfect example of how I try to conduct myself in my own career.”

New Leverenz on the way

When she’s away from the Academy and not making school fun for her students, Leverenz keeps plenty busy. She and husband, Matt, also an MSU alum, love to travel, hike, play games and spend time with her family, most of whom also live in the area. In addition, she’s a Pure Barre instructor, having become a fan of the innovative workout routine herself.

Also, in a few months, Leverenz and hubby Matt’s life will be getting even busier.

“We are expecting our first child, a boy, in April,” she said. “We can’t wait!”

Leverenz and her husband, Matt, were in Banff National Park, located in Alberta, Canada, last summer.