Quirky is how Sheryl Waltman describes herself and contends she is matched perfectly with her Gifted Elementary students at University View Academy. Gifted students are academically advanced in reading and math but think and process in different ways. Her classes cover high-interest topics and are like electives, but the students aren’t graded. “I want to be someplace where you try to make a difference,” she explained about joining the school 2 years ago. “I just like a place that serves children, serves their needs.”
Mrs. Waltman has taught for 16 years but started teaching much later than most. While in college in her younger years, Sheryl was forced to drop out and take a job in the corporate world, eventually becoming a vice-president of sales and marketing for a candy company. Business meetings, phone calls, and lots of travel was her world then. But she says her dream was always to become a teacher. “Another frontier to cross,” as Mrs. Waltman put it. “I’ve always been a risk-taker and knew that there was something more out there,” she explained about her road back to college to achieve her teaching degree. Also, Mrs. Waltman has two master’s degrees and is working on a Ph.D. in psychology. While at LSU pursuing one of her degrees, Mrs. Waltman says she had a defining moment that changed her entire outlook on teaching. “You don’t teach subjects, you teach kids,” Sheryl explained. It’s been her philosophy since.
She related a story about one of her UVA students enrolled in her Gifted Elementary Science class. He was obsessed with black holes in space. A black hole is a region of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing, no particles or even electromagnetic radiation such as light, can escape from it. At the end of the class discussion, the student was instructed to devise a project to show what he learned. What he came up with was an eye-opener. He produced a video showing him in a spacesuit standing in front of a screen with a nebula, an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium, and other ionized gases. He talked about the black hole and how LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory in Livingston Parish, had a prominent role in proving that black holes exist. It was a moment teachers blush about as they swell up with pride.
Another subject Mrs. Waltman knows she’ll have to tackle this new school year is COVID-19. Sheryl knows first-hand about the virus. Her husband was stricken with a mild case and is recovering. She says she literally followed him around the house with a spray bottle of bleach to disinfect surfaces, and both wore masks. It’ll make for some interesting discussions with her students. “Each year is different. Otherwise, it’s not meeting the needs of the students,” she stated. But due to the virus, she says, “Everything will be different.”