Spotlight: Katie McQuone (CA '19)January 24, 2020
Katie McQuone (CA ’19) originally planned to teach elementary school, but when a job opened up leading the Video Production Academy at her alma mater, the fit felt right. “High school students are on the verge of figuring out their whole life,” she says. “It’s so exciting to help them get on their way.” Katie received her Milken Award at Fresno's Sunnyside High School on December 10, 2019.
Milken Family Foundation: Your program teaches video production and digital media skills. Why are these important for your students’ futures?
Katie McQuone (CA '19): Everywhere you look content is being delivered to us digitally. There are so many jobs now that use the skills we teach in our program. Many colleges courses also include assignments that require video or digital work. No matter what career or life path my students choose, they will have a set of skills under their belt and great memories from their time in high school.
MFF: Tell us about some of the competitions your students enter.
Katie: Every year our seniors enter two local student film festivals, Picture the Valley and Slick Rock. We have had past students win for their public service announcements, advertisements and documentaries. For the last few years we have partnered with Fresno Film Works, a local nonprofit, to offer our students film competitions amongst themselves for cash prizes and screen time at a local historic theater.
In the spring of 2019 I entered one of my students’ documentaries into the student division of the Emmy Awards. She won in the Northern California chapter and moved on to the national competition. It is so exciting to see my students’ work recognized outside the classroom.
MFF: How did you end up in education?
Katie: Education was never my plan. In college I took a part-time job working with preschool children while I completed my degree. I fell in love with that age group. After college I considered preschool but decided on elementary.
I went back to school to get my credential and as soon as I finished my multiple subject the Video Production Academy position at Sunnyside opened up. I was terrified to take on a high school position, but after a few conversations it just felt like the right place for me. I have been here ever since.
MFF: What’s it like to teach in your hometown, in the school where you were once a student?
Katie: I moved away for college, studied abroad twice, and have traveled to many different countries and cities around the world, but there’s no place like home. I was terrified of being looked at as the kid who never left high school, so I made it a point not to come back for a long time.
When I started subbing at Sunnyside I saw the school through a different lens. I wasn’t a student anymore and could see and appreciate on a deeper level all the hard work the adults on this campus put in. I had no hesitations about taking the job here because I knew I had a strong support system and I wanted my students to have the same positive feelings about this campus that I do. There is no place I would rather be!
MFF: How was your first year?
Katie: If you had asked me this question during my first year of teaching I would have looked at you with my rose-colored glasses on and told you everything was great. I loved my job but it was VERY challenging.
I cried a lot my first year because I felt very isolated. No one else on campus taught what I did, I had never taught video, and I had never taught high school. I reached out to anyone who would listen, took a lot of classes, and worked really hard to learn everything so that I could give the students the best experience possible. I didn’t want them to look back and think that they didn’t get anything out of the class.
MFF: What do you like about high school students?
Katie: All the different personalities make it so much fun. I love all the different conversations I get to engage in every day. High school students are on the verge of figuring out their whole life, and it’s so exciting to have a tiny role in that and help them get on their way.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Katie: There are honestly too many role models to just name a few. I have so many people who have helped me get to where I am now and who will still be there to guide me further. I look up to so many of my current staff members because a lot of them were my teachers in high school.
I try to take bits and pieces from everyone I work with and incorporate it into my own teaching. My high school and college swim coach, Karyn Klatt, has been a second mother to me for more than 15 years. She is the reason I am here at Sunnyside now.
My high school vice principal, Sheryl Weaver, had a huge impact on me by just being the amazing leader that she is. She had a way of making every person she talked to feel special and seen. I always try to remind myself of her work ethic and personality when teaching my own students.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Katie: Surprised is an understatement. My school and admin did such a great job convincing me that we were gathering in the gym to celebrate the success of all of our CTE teachers and pathways. Never in a million years did I think I would win something like this.
I was so nervous when they handed me the mic to speak because I still couldn’t comprehend what was going on. I wish I had a chance to speak again because I would have said more than just “Thank you!”
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Katie: I think my students were just as shocked as I was. A lot of times awards like this go to people who have been teaching for a lot longer than I have been. I am sure they had other teachers’ names running through their heads before my name was called.
After everyone was excused from the gym my students went back to class and lined the hallways and chanted my name as I walked up. It made me feel so good that they were able to share in the excitement. Of course, I get asked every day what I am going to do with the money …
MFF: OK, we’ll join in. What are you going to do with the $25,000?
Katie: I am so excited to use the Award to make my final payment on my student loans. After that I know my husband and I will take a trip somewhere, although we haven’t decided where yet.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Katie: Success comes in so many forms in a CTE classroom. It changes from day to day and student to student. Obviously, I want each student to learn the curriculum and leave my classroom with a new set of skills. But beyond that sometimes just getting a particular student to come to school is success. For myself, I think it’s the same idea. My success is dependent on the particular student or class I am working with.
MFF: What do you hope your students remember from their time with you?
Katie: I always want my students to think of the Video Production Academy as home. I want them to walk into this room and have positive memories flood back about their time with their friends and me. My room is open before school, at lunch and after school, and it’s a great way to get to know students on a deeper level. I always want them to know I am here for them, even years after they graduate.
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