Article by Andy Brown

Still early in her career, Carissa Sidor, Adams State Class of 2016 and 2017, has already excelled in her chosen profession as an elementary school educator and made impressive impacts on her fourth-grade students’ lives. For her accomplishments, she was named the Adams State University 2021 Exceptional New Alumna.

Sidor will accept the award at the Adams State Homecoming Alumni Awards Banquet on October 15.

Teaching runs in her family, but Sidor didn’t know for a fact that she would end up in a classroom. She volunteered at elementary schools while in high school, but when Sidor first came to Adams State, her plan was to study pre-veterinary medicine. During her second year, however, she changed her major to elementary education and never looked back.

“As soon as I started the classes, I fell in love with it,” she recalls. “There were about 20 of us who had most of the same classes together after our sophomore year. We got to know each other and be ourselves because we were a close-knit cohort.”

After graduating with a Bachelors of Arts in interdisciplinary studies with emphasis in child development and mathematics, Sidor was accepted into the Boettcher Teacher Residency, a program that helps prepare teachers for low-income, rural and urban public schools.

Carissa Sidor
Carissa Sidor

Sidor worked alongside a mentor teacher in Thornton, Colo., while simultaneously earning a Master of Arts in education with an endorsement in culturally and linguistically diverse education from Adams State. “Sometimes student teaching is just a semester, but in the residency you get to teach for a year, and by the end of the year you’re taking over the classroom,” she says.

From there, Sidor moved to Rio Rancho, N.M., where she not only began teaching but soon took additional responsibilities as the fourth-grade team leader. As team lead, she liaisons with the school’s administration, making sure teachers at her grade level are kept in the loop. “The administration picks the teacher they’d like to be team lead, whoever they think is doing a good job at teaching and can take on the additional responsibilities,” she says.

Teaching in a Pandemic

When Sidor started teaching, she knew there would be a learning curve, and after three years, she had put in enough hours to feel confident in her role. “I’m an elementary teacher, so it’s constantly a new experience, but I’m comfortable with the curriculum and knowing what I’m teaching and how to help students with their growth and to be successful,” she says.

Still, no one anticipated just how much that education would change when the COVID pandemic began. “When we went to online learning, everyone was starting from scratch, figuring it out as we went,” she says. “It’s definitely constantly changing, and we have to be willing to make adjustments.”

She is fortunate to work in a school district that is supportive of teachers. “Our school is very good. Anytime the principal gets information, she shares it right away. Our district is very on top of it,” she says. “I have very supportive parents. They understand we don’t really have control over it.”

Despite the uncertainty, Sidor feels that Adams State prepared her well, even for the challenges the pandemic brought. “I think Adams State has it set up correctly, having you in the classroom right away,” she says. “During undergrad, we got a lot of classroom teaching and observation experience.”

She also credits faculty and mentors at Adams State, including then teacher education advisor Lynn Crowder and Kelly Ozawa, Class of 1988 and 1999, for sharing their experience and knowledge. “Kelly Ozawa was actually an elementary teacher, so she would teach during the day to elementary kids and then have classes with us and share her real-life experiences,” says Sidor.

This year, Sidor is hosting a student teacher of her own, completing the chain through which knowledge learned becomes knowledge shared. “I’m excited to teach others how to teach and being able to hopefully offer her everything I’ve learned,” says Sidor. “She was with me last week, and it was neat to see her thought process and to help her understand what I’m doing. It shows how much I’ve grown.”

A Passion for Soccer and Coaching

In her spare time, Sidor plays soccer, a sport she first took up at the age of four. In fact, soccer is how she ended up at Adams State. “I was given the opportunity to continue playing soccer at Adams State,” she says. “It was helpful for getting to know people, because we started a couple weeks before school started. I lived in the soccer house, with soccer girls and we were a really tight group. It was definitely nice to have that relationship with those girls.”

She stays connected to her passion by holding independent training sessions; working with Lil’ Kickers, a program that holds classes and camps for kids; and by playing in an adult co-ed league.