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May 14, 2002   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
May 14, 2002

MONTGOMERY, Ala.--Birmingham second-grade teacher Lori Sissa helps her students achieve their goals through a program she calls Sissa's Stars. But this month, Ms. Sissa was the "star" when she was named Alfa's Teacher of the Month for May. As this month's winner, she will receive $1,000 from Alfa Insurance Co. and the Alabama Farmers Federation. Her school, Norwood Elementary, will receive a matching award for its role in encouraging excellence in education.

A 17-year veteran of the classroom, Ms. Sissa began her teaching career in Bessemer after graduating from the University of Alabama. She later taught in Louisiana and Georgia before returning to Birmingham where she completed her master's degree at Samford University. Today, she is both a teacher and the technology coordinator at Norwood Elementary. Her philosophy of teaching is centered on the idea that all children can learn when given the chance.

"I feel that it is the job of the teacher to be able to coordinate and organize (the) classroom so that the environment is flexible to all learning styles," Ms. Sissa said. "The teacher is also a key component to the overall climate within the classroom. The energy and personality that the teacher brings forth sets the tone."

Ms. Sissa said students are "like sponges ready to soak up knowledge." To wet their appetite for learning, she developed Sissa's Stars. The program encourages students to set goals and expectations for the school year. The students incorporate those objectives into a pledge that they recite together. Ms. Sissa said the program helps promote unity among the students as they strive to reach their learning goals.

"My goal is to help each child have dreams and goals, and to believe in (those goals) and themselves as they become productive citizens of our future," she said.

At the beginning of the year, Ms. Sissa uses a variety of assessment tools to gauge each student's abilities and needs. Her classroom includes a reading loft and bean bag chairs to encourage independent study, and students are arranged in cooperative learning groups, which further develops the idea of unity. She also emphasizes hands-on activities and projects that take advantage of the classroom's six computers.

This is Alfa's fifth year as sponsor of the Teacher of the Month program. During the 2002, Alfa will honor one teacher from each of Alabama's eight state school board districts as well as two private school teachers and two principals. Program criteria and application information for the program are available by clicking on ""Alfa Teacher of the Month"" in the Ag Links section of the Alfa Farmers website, www.alfafarmers.org.

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