WEST SPRINGFIELD — Five West Springfield teachers, Megan Banks, Stephanie Duggan, Karin Kane, Courtney Kimball and Christopher Taft, will be honored this month for their exceptional teaching skills.

Each was chosen for a 2024 Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award, from 61 teachers in the district who were nominated. Awards will be presented at a gala evening celebration April 30 at The Log Cabin in Holyoke.

The West Side educators are among 91 teachers from Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties receiving their 2024 award from the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation and the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation. All will receive $250 for personal use, an engraved plaque and three-month memberships at six regional YMCAs or the Jewish Community Center. Additionally, tuition incentives and scholarships will be offered from seven major colleges and universities in the region.

Megan Banks

Raised in Granville with a desire to make the world a better place, Megan Banks credits her mother and her “incredible teachers” at the former Granville Village School for her career choice.

Megan Banks is a grade 4 teacher at Tatham School.
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

“If I could affect one child’s life like my teachers affected mine, I could call myself a success. I can’t think of a better way to make a positive force in children’s lives,” said the fourth-grade teacher at Tatham School. She’s taught in West Springfield for four years.

The Red Door Theatre in Feeding Hills was another major influence.

“It’s a magical place — I learned about theater and felt safe, encouraged and loved in an artistic community. I want to bring what I learned there into my classroom,” she said.

One of her many proud teaching moments occurred this school year: “A student told me she trusted me more than anyone in her life other than her parents and grandparents. That’s an enormous compliment and an important responsibility.” 

The award makes Banks feel her colleagues and community see her and appreciate her as much as she sees and appreciates them.

“It’s easy to feel the work, love, care, attention and dedication we put into our work isn’t seen,” said Banks, who is undecided about how to use her award money. 

Stephanie Druggan

For Stephanie Duggan, teaching has always been her calling. “It was my dream for a long time. Now it’s my passion,” said the second-grade teacher at Coburn School.

Stephanie Duggan is a grade 2 teacher at Coburn School.
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

A West Side teacher for 14 years, Duggan said she wanted to create the same excitement for learning that her “amazing” first-grade teacher did for her.

“I’m also incredibly lucky to have parents who always supported my siblings and me,” she said. “They knew being a teacher was my dream and encouraged me to make it happen.”

Duggan fosters a classroom environment where all students feel welcomed and accepted. It’s like a second home for her students.

“I always have a high number of English language learners who come from many different countries,” she said. “They’ve overcome so much in their young lives. I’m doing everything in my power to support them while they’re in our class.”

Duggan said recognizing excellence in teaching highlights the work teachers do every day while celebrating those who have gone above and beyond for students.

She’s looking forward to using her award money for “some type of adventure” with her husband and son — perhaps a concert for one of their favorite bands.

Karin Kane

As a child growing up in a family of three brothers. Karin Kane loved playing “school,” conducting lessons at a chalkboard in her family’s kitchen.

Karin Kane is an English interventionist at Fausey School.
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

“I always knew teaching was my journey in life,” said Kane, an English language arts interventionist at Fausey School. Her West Springfield teaching career began 21 years ago as a first-grade reading recovery teacher.

Kane said many people have encouraged her career — from “terrific teachers” in Holyoke, where she began teaching, to colleagues and administrators in West Springfield who guided her teaching.

“What I love best about being a teacher is every day is a new beginning — yesterday is in the past,” she said. “If my students are having fun and learning at the same time, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Kane said teachers deserve recognition, whether it’s from colleagues, parents or students. “It can be as simple as ‘Thank you for everything.’ It’s validation that you’re doing your best by educating the youth of tomorrow,” she said.

She said the award money will go back to her students: “We love to make learning special for them.”

Courtney Kimball

After multiple jobs didn’t fit for her, Courtney Kimball realized she wanted to work with kids.

Courtney Kimball is a grade 1 teacher at Fausey School.
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

A first grade teacher at Fausey School, she loved watching students take pride in themselves as a gymnastics coach when she was younger. When she started her master’s degree in education while working as a building substitute for one year, her passion and desire to teach became even greater.

Kimball, a West Springfield teacher for three years, grew up watching her mother teach and work in her classroom.

“She inspired me to teach. I loved writing on her whiteboard and pretending to teach a class of students,” she said.

“My favorite part about teaching is watching my first graders become more confident in themselves,” she said. Kimball said being a new teacher can be challenging. “Even when I became a licensed teacher, it was still very intimidating to run a classroom. Receiving this award has helped me trust myself more in the classroom and be proud of what I have overcome to get to this point.”

She plans to use her award money for “alternative sitting” in her classroom.

Christopher Taft

Christopher Taft is “a career-changer” who entered teaching unexpectedly.

Christopher Taft is a grade 8 science teacher at West Springfield Middle School.
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

During the slow winter season for his small business, Taft began substitute teaching at his former middle school. When he started looking forward to working with students more and more, he decided to pursue a teaching career.

Taft has taught eighth grade science at West Springfield Middle School for 13 years now, following three years in Springfield. Taft loves his “quirky interactions” with students: “There’s never a dull moment, I could fill volumes describing some of the funny interactions.”

His proudest moments have been when former students tell him they’re pursuing higher education or careers in science after gaining an interest through his class.

“It’s beyond humbling, I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of their respective journeys,” he said.

.He said the award “means the world” to him because it also recognizes many people who inspired his career.

“Like most professions, teaching involves borrowing tactics from others,” he said. “I’m extremely fortunate to have had, and continue to have, many awesome mentors and role models from whom I can borrow.”

Taft said he’ll probably allocate some of the award money toward “dappering up” for the banquet.

mlydick@thereminder.com | + posts