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Kaylee Justice

Changing the Perception

By Barry Engelhardt

“I’m seeing
I’m seeing

While math teacher Kaylee Justice is only settling into her second year at Meridian High School, she can already see a difference in her students. From momentary interactions to standardized test scores, things are steadily ticking upward through a process she describes as continuous improvement. “I’m seeing growth. I’m seeing progress,” says Kaylee with a prideful grin.

“I had a student recently tell me that she understands things. I replied that it’s because you’re paying attention. You’re involved, and you want to learn,” said Kaylee. “You walk around and see all the Halloween decorations, the friendly competition, and the kids putting up Homecoming posters and campaigning. The halls are alive.”

Kaylee grew up in the village of Odin, Illinois, and was one of fourteen students in her graduating class. It was at Odin that she first connected with teaching mathematics. During her senior year, her pre-calculus teacher suggested that Kaylee help tutor a struggling student in Algebra. Kaylee started helping him, and before long, she says she turned her seventh-hour study hall into a makeshift remedial math classroom.

During these study hall math sessions, a spark for teaching ignited, and Kaylee soon enrolled in Eastern Illinois University to pursue an education degree. Strong academically, she was named a Presidential Scholar, which provided her with a full scholarship to the university. While at Eastern, she met former Cairo Superintendent Dr. Andrea Evers. In Dr. Evers, Kaylee gained an advocate and a mentor.

Upon graduating, Dr. Evers offered Kaylee a teaching position, and she quickly accepted. Except for a two-year stint in Honolulu, Hawaii, Kaylee remained in Cairo until last year. Dr. Evers had recently left the district, and Kaylee decided she wanted to make a change while remaining in the area. Kaylee laughs and shares that Meridian’s principal, Mrs. Boren, had tried to recruit her once before. “So, I called her and asked if she still needed a math teacher, and she said yes, Ma’am,” says Kaylee.

Kaylee quickly accepted the position and is now in her second year at Meridian. She teaches Integrated Math I through III and Next Generation Math. Using an integrated approach, she intertwines algebra and geometry over three years. The curriculum also blends aspects of probability and statistics. Combining these interrelated concepts in a more logical and less nuanced fashion allows students to continuously practice mathematical skill sets in a way that encourages long-term memory and mathematical thinking. This methodology complements Kaylee’s teaching philosophy, which focuses on relating mathematics to real-world applications.

“One of my projects for geometry is calculating whether you can steal second base mathematically. They’ve got to factor in all the reaction time, from the pitcher to the catcher to all of that,” she shares.

Kaylee admits she’s still finding her groove but has strong ambitions when it comes to making a positive impact on Meridian by changing perceptions surrounding education. She earned her master’s degree in administration in December but suggests her goal isn’t to become a principal. Instead, she hopes to become an instructional coach, preferably in the Meridian school district. “I want to help certify teachers who have come into education through non-traditional methods and, therefore, different perspectives.”

“I have two former students who are substitute teaching at Cairo,” says Kaylee with the same prideful grin she displayed when talking about her current students’ growing success in math. “I was in Cairo for so long that I knew everybody. So that’s something I’m still learning. I was there for eight years. That’s a long time,” says Kaylee. She concludes by sharing that she wants to build those long-standing relationships in Meridian. “I want to let the community see the value.”

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