Staff Spotlighting Staff: Vonda Karnazes, New Branches Charter Academy

Vonda Karnazes was nominated by her principal Mrs. Terry Larkin. Vonda is starting her 14th year at New Branches Charter Academy in Grand Rapids. She currently serves as the ELL Coordinator.

Vonda is a great example of a student-focused teacher! She serves our ELL students and is truly an advocate for them and their families. Her extensive knowledge of ELL strategies and understanding the needs of her students is evident each and every day. She has keen attention to details and she doesn’t miss a beat! Thank you, Vonda, for going above and beyond each day,” said Mrs. Larkin.

1)     What have your roles been at New Branches over the past 14 years? 

“My career at New Branches Charter Academy began as the Music Teacher K-8, teaching basic music education, Music History/Appreciation, as well as Piano Keyboard Skills. Hoping to become a full-time employee, a former NBCA colleague brought to my attention the need for a certified ELL teacher. At the time, we had between 20-25 ELLs which was manageable with my music teaching schedule. Change is inevitable, and as the role of Music Education began to become obsolete, the number of ELLs increased (now over 60!), and I was blessed to take on the role of ELL Teacher/Coordinator full time. While my “teacher hat” has always been most dear to me, I have also had the honor and privilege of stepping into the roles of Acting Principal, Title I Coordinator, and 504 Coordinator.”    

2)      What’s your favorite part about New Branches Charter Academy?

“My love for NBCA is analogous to finding your “perfect match.” The more you are with them, the more grounded your commitment becomes and your love grows exponentially. My work and relationships with my ELLs and their families are at the center of my love for NBCA. Furthermore, the staff at NBCA are considered family. There is a genuineness to the support and concern that colleagues demonstrate with each other which creates a safe and welcoming work environment. We also share a lot of great laughs together which is good for the soul!!”

3)     What does student-focused mean to you?

“Student-focused means putting on my ELL glasses and viewing my students through a lens which brings their specific and unique needs, i.e. academic, social-emotional, physical, etc. into a much sharper focus. Approaching my students in this manner provides me with a more accurate perspective from which to provide the necessary support and assistance. Ideally, I strive to train my vision to the point that it becomes highly sensitized and keenly aware of those needs, hopefully allowing me to be even more proactive.” 

4)     Where does your passion for ELL and these families come from?

“Well, to begin with, the variety of Personality Type quizzes taken over the years tend to peg me as a Nurturer! Admittedly, it does pain me to see people struggle, especially in their everyday lives. If I can be a source of help and aid in easing those struggles and possibly boost their morale, I am, hopefully, living out the calling Christ has called me to… I am sharing their burdens.”

“Secondly, I love traveling and gaining cultural awareness. My experiences have led me to Germany, France, Norway, Belgium, the Netherland, and Israel. I was blessed to live a year in Denmark and nearly five years in England. Emerging oneself in another’s culture allows you to connect and appreciate them at a much deeper level.”

5)      What experiences have you had that have shaped your heart for this?

“Traveling outside the USA and becoming immersed in different cultures, as well as acknowledging and embracing the differences, has undoubtedly, shaped and prepared my heart. The communication challenges I encountered, the insecurity and frustration of trying to get another human being to grasp what I needed absolutely sensitized me to the many effects a language barrier can have on someone. The day-to-day observation of the struggles in our ELL community underscores the variety of needs they have and the gaps in their understanding and use of the English language. Recently, I witnessed a young ELL family at the grocery store, struggling to purchase formula for their infant. Communication was the road-block in the attempted transaction. Fortunately, I was in a position to provide some help so baby was able to eat!”

6)     Any other comments you want to share about your experiences teaching?

“Forming an authentic and genuine relationship is foundational to being an effective teacher. One cannot truly focus on what they do not know nor understand. Healthy relationships allow an atmosphere of trust to develop and provide one’s vision to adjust and form a clear picture of our students’ needs.” 

“Recently, it seems as though the needs of our students have burgeoned beyond what we feel capable of addressing. Ask for help, give yourself grace, and know that you are enough. I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Mother Teresa: “Never worry about the numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”