Teachers are the true cornerstones of our future. They educate future leaders that influence history. They educate future parents who will rear the builders of society. They help build character and guide minds toward noble endeavors while giving students the academic tools to succeed in their chosen profession. Sarah Yakutis, a fifth grade teacher at Strand Elementary School, is one such teacher. Talking with her about her students and her job, the energy, love, and passion for those in her classroom is evident.
That desire to be a teacher came from her teacher when she was only 8 years old, which emphasizes the influence of one good teacher. She remembers Mrs. Ryno played the piano, and at the time Yakutis thought all teachers played the piano. After school she would pretend she was Mrs. Ryno as she taught her stuffed animals.
Without hesitation, Yakutis says the best thing about her job is the kids, and there is “nothing better than seeing somebody when the light comes on, and they’re getting it and feeling enthusiastic and good about themselves. I like the connection with the kids, the relationship with them.” A teacher is reaching the students when “they lean into it a little bit, so there’s a spark, a look of engagement. They’re happy. They like to learn.”
Yakutis’ teaching career in Coronado began as the visual arts teacher at Village Elementary School. While she does not consider herself artistic, she had help from her husband’s artistic Aunt Ginny Trevelyan with whom they were living at the time. “It was really fun. I‘m very mathematical, so I love math and took a more mathematical approach to the art. It was a lot of patterns and blending. My art is very orderly. I like quilting. I like gardening, everything in a row. Everything’s very ‘mathy’ to me, so I would say I’m pretty artsy in that department.”
Teaching at Strand since 2008, Yakutis feels, “I am part of this incredible team at Silver Strand, and I’m just one representative of so many wonderful (teachers). It’s a very, very special staff. We have very special people that work here, and I feel extremely lucky…. Once I came down here, I felt like I’d found home.” She is proud that the school environment is conducive to maximum learning.
Yakutis has taught fifth grade for five years, but before that she taught fourth grade for four years, and then she was an ASE (Academic, Support, and Enrichment) teacher. While differences between military and non-military children are not drastic, she recognizes the unique lifestyle the military dependent student has. “They come with so many different experiences since most have moved around. In some ways they have a very rich experience. They bring a lot of that to the table which is fun to work with…. On the other hand, they’ve had different kinds of curriculum, and it doesn’t always match up with our curriculum, so there’s some bridging that goes with that.”
Recognizing that individuals have different learning styles, she says meeting each child’s needs “is the million-dollar question.” While the school’s math program seems to accommodate the students’ needs, Yakutis tries to meet other differences through small groups and game playing where it is easier to get around to the student who is struggling and do some re-teaching. Academic Support Enrichment groups work with some students.
For the last five years, the Strand has been “leaning heavily into the social-emotional learning. That’s probably become my favorite part of the day. It’s really connecting with kids.”
At first Yakutis was resistant because it was another 20 minutes of something to do, and she felt the day did not allow enough time, but she feels the children “are more productive after they’ve had a moment to share with everybody how they’re feeling.” She says that activity builds bonds between the students that promote a better learning environment. “They’re much more supportive of each other the rest of the day, so we’re much more productive, less disruptive. They’re more bonded to me as well.”
Using the Sanford Harmony curriculum, she started the community circle which helps with social and emotional learning that foster a safe and supportive school environment which includes the family and the community. A school setting that engages in active learning needs to have rules that promote respect and inclusion, and Yakutis utilizes all available tools to ensure her students have an ideal learning environment. “We start every day with a community building activity, community circle, where we discuss what’s going on in the classroom. There might be a random topic about anything, then we have our Sanford Harmony social-emotional curriculum that we use. That has specific lessons about communication and inclusion and celebrating differences and getting along really well together. That’s more of a canned curriculum … but we do a lot beyond that where kids really drive whatever they’re feeling or talking about. Once a week we do a 1 to 5, telling how you’re feeling 1 to 5, 1 being feeling down in the dumps and 5 being elated or giddy.” It allows the students to express things that may be interfering with their learning, like sharing, “My dog died.”
Known as a teacher who pilots new programs and sits on committees, Yakutis admits she is somewhat of a committee addict. For her, the attraction of being on committees is to hear the decision making when it’s being decided and being able to contribute her views while representing what others want. Currently on MTSS (Multi-tiered Systems of Support) for the district with subgroups for the schools, she says, “Our MTSS has been focused on creating a school wide positive based intervention system… which is like positive discipline…. To give them (students) a chance when they do mess up to have some sort of restorative action.” Respect, responsibility, safety, and kindness are Strand’s focus for the students.
She was recently on the evaluations committee where they rewrote the evaluations program for all employees. “That was a good place for me to bring lots of years of experience to the table.”
The various schools in Coronado have their own character programs. Yakutis is a member of The Positive School Climate Committee which “is trying to come up with a universal talking point about where the district’s going with positive school climate. Just trying to come up with something that makes it feel like the district is united under the same umbrella without changing the curriculum.”
Yakutis has the background of a Coronado parent as well as years of experience in the classroom to form her knowledge of what works for students. Married for 34 years to Alex, they have two daughters who attended school in Coronado. Grace graduated from USC in 2020 and is working as a biomedical engineer. Emma graduated from Coronado High School in 2019 and is at UC Berkely studying environmental science and taking premed classes.
Yakutis’ involvement with children came before she entered the classroom. When her girls were young, she was a Girl Scout leader of her daughters’ troops from kindergarten to eighth grade. Because of her math skills, however, she could have taken a different direction. She was encouraged to become an engineer, but she knew she should be a teacher. At CSLB, she graduated with liberal studies and an emphasis in history, then a K – 8 teaching credential at Riverside. Two years ago, she received her MA in Administration from CSSM. She loves teaching, but she looks at being prepared for administration “in case the perfect job comes up.”
For fun, Yakutis mentions gardening first followed by cooking, especially for large groups. She attributes that to her father who cooked for 500 soldiers a day in the Air Force. “I like to cook for a large crowd because it makes me happy.” Love of gardening comes from Aunt Ginny who had an English garden in the home she now owns. She keeps the English garden in honor of Aunt Ginny.
Coronado is fortunate to have a dedicated teacher like Yakutis who is equipped to lead our youth and prepare them for their future. She says, “The really great thing about teaching is learning with them, a constant learning.” Life-long learners make the best teachers because they know the joy of learning, and it transfers to the students.