Education Degree Alumnae Making Difference at Lacoochee Elementary
Meet Savannah Hall and Ryah Taggerty, two Saint Leo University education degree program alumnae now making a difference in the lives of first graders at Lacoochee Elementary.
Savannah Hall and Ryah Taggerty are team teachers at Lacoochee Elementary School in Dade City, FL. However, teaching at the Title I school, the two alumnae of Saint Leo University’s undergraduate education degree program wear far more hats beyond that of an educator.
Hall, 26, and Taggerty, 23, come from different backgrounds. Hall was born in Wesley Chapel, FL where she grew up. Taggerty’s dad served in the Air Force. Born in Washington State, she lived in several locations but spent her formative years in Florida. Both graduated from Wesley Chapel High School.
According to Hall, she had a family connection to Saint Leo University.
“My dad’s great-aunt used to work for the school when it was Saint Leo College,” Hall says. “My dad had always joked about me going to Saint Leo. So, I took a tour to appease him. I really liked the personal feel and welcoming environment of the campus, and I knew it was the right choice for me and not just my dad.”
Taggerty recounts how she first learned about Saint Leo and what convinced her to enroll.
“A recruiter came to our high school. I really liked what they said about the small class sizes,” she says. “After taking a tour, I thought the campus was beautiful and decided I wanted to attend.”
Taggerty says observing her mom’s teaching career inspired her to pursue the same profession.
“I had always wanted to be a teacher since I was very young,” Taggerty recalls. “I fell in love with what she does.”
Hall had a bit of a different path to the classroom.
“During my senior year of high school, I worked as a peer mentor at Wesley Chapel High School,” she says. “I worked with kids in a remedial reading class. I quickly saw a connection between how they grew up and the classes they were in. I decided that I wanted to help this population of students. To me, education is the most important thing young people must complete in order to make progress in their lives.”
They both enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in elementary education degree program at Saint Leo. Hall embarked on the program in the fall of 2013 and graduated in 2017. She also earned her online M.Ed. in reading education from Saint Leo. Taggerty began the bachelor’s program in the fall of 2016 and completed it in 2020.
For Taggerty, she considers Drs. Holly Atkins and Candace Roberts to be her mentors.
“They both helped completely change my view of the world for the better,” she says. “I got to have some very unique conversations with them that students at other schools typically wouldn’t get to have with their professors.”
Within the curriculum, Teaching Diverse Populations and Brain-Based Learning in the Digital Age were two classes that stood out to her.
Hall says her faculty advisor, Dr. Kimberly Higden, helped her immensely after she switched majors to the education degree program.
“I had so many conversations with her about what I wanted to focus on in my career and the most rewarding places to work,” Hall explains.
Dr. Kate Wittrock, the supervisor for her final internship, also helped her understand many important concepts of teaching English to speakers of other languages (ESOL).
Taggerty offers up some advice on why those considering Saint Leo should take a second look at the school and its education program if they are intrigued by the possibility of teaching.
“The fact that your professors know your name and what you’re going through is huge,” she says. “If you’re just a number in a class, I don’t see how u can honestly succeed academically, especially in an education degree program.”
Hall concurs that small class sizes are critical when training future teachers.
“To me, when professors can have close relationships with their students, they’re putting out more quality educators than a larger quantity of those who are not as prepared to succeed.”
They added that the internship requirements of the education degree program are more rigorous than other programs out there. For example, students get the opportunity to teach in four different classroom settings, many of which are at Title I schools. They also get to do mock interviews with local principals.
Outside of their education degree coursework, both women were active on campus. Taggerty served as vice president of the Kappa Delta Pi education honor society chapter and was a member of the Florida Future Educators of America (FFEA) chapter. Hall was president of the Delta Sigma Epsilon sorority, vice president of Kappa Delta Pi, secretary of the FFEA chapter, and a member of the Theta Phi Alpha sorority. She also competed on the cheerleading team.
Taggerty believes personal development is so important in the education profession.
“Savannah has helped me learn the importance of reflecting on what happens in the classroom and how to make it better the next day. This is such a necessary skill because you can’t teach the same thing every year as things evolve in the world.”
Hall agrees with this core value.
“You have to stay abreast of new research in education, new teaching methods, and find new ways to relate to your students.”
Community is also an integral ingredient, she adds.
“It takes a village to teach a child,” Hall says. “We have a strong community at Lacoochee, so I can lean on others for support. I was able to do this with my professors and fellow students at Saint Leo as well.”
During their education degree program coursework, they completed their internship requirements in a variety of environments. Hall interned at Lacoochee, Gulf Highlands Elementary, and Cox Elementary. As for Taggerty, she did stints at Pasco Elementary, Woodland Elementary, San Antonio Elementary, and Countryside Montessori.
For the past few years, they have both taught at Lacoochee Elementary. The school enrolls about 300 students, and they have over 40 students in the first grade class they teach together. Hall covers reading, writing, and social studies. Taggerty handles math and science.
“Team teaching has allowed me to focus on what I’m good at and helps in the curriculum planning process,” Taggerty explains. “Also, every student has the chance to connect with either one of us. I’m super thankful to team teach with Savannah. She has been a huge support to me and it’s great to be able to share ideas with each other.”
Lacoochee is somewhat of a family school for Taggerty. Her mom, Tracy, also teaches fourth grade there.
Hall offers her take on what it takes for two teachers to make a successful partnership.
“I wouldn’t have signed up to team teach if I couldn’t do it with Ryah because you have to have extremely similar styles of classroom management. Our routines are pretty much the same, and this benefits our kids so they are getting consistent approaches to the classroom. I also think the Saint Leo connection we have has made it a smoother partnership.”
Along with her first grade class, Hall works as a cooperating teacher. She also received the Outstanding Educator Award from the school board last year.
In addition to Hall and Taggerty, several other administrators and instructors at the school are either current Saint Leo students or alumni.
A large number of the students at the school come from low-income families, and 95 percent receive free or reduced lunches. This is what designates Lacoochee to be a Title I school in Pasco County.
“Many of these kids are dealing with lots of challenges at home,” Hall says. “So, we are social workers and guidance counselors on top of being teachers. We do it all, but we love these kids.”
The teachers at the school routinely give students rides to and from school and often take them places on the weekends. Plus, several teachers pay electric bills for students’ families and chip in financially to support them in other ways.
Taggerty says she and Hall wouldn’t be on this career path if they didn’t enjoy how rewarding it is to witness their efforts.
“With our kids, you can see the instant impact you have on them,” Taggerty confides. “This is a huge part of why we’re here. I’d also say our school community makes it such an amazing place to work. We have a very special and unique environment.”
Making an impact on a specific population is also their mission each day. They point to research that has shown a correlation between low literacy rates among third graders and future incarceration.
“My big ‘why’ for becoming a teacher was to help break kids out of generational poverty with a focus on literacy,” Hall says. “Hopefully everything we teach them will be passed on to their own kids someday.”
Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Savannah Hall and Ryah Taggerty and are used with permission.