From Moscow, Russia, with a few stopping points in-between, was the circuitous journey Centennial’s 2019 Teacher of the Year took before landing in Edmond.
Leah DeGiacomo is in her twelfth year of teaching, with the past seven years at Centennial where she teaches fourth graders.
“My past teaching history includes teaching overseas in Moscow, Russia, at an international school for a year, then in St. Louis, Mo., at Pattonville Heights Middle School for two years, in Mustang at Mustang Trails Elementary for a year, and finally at Centennial,” DeGiacomo said.
(Editor’s Note: This story is one in a series of stories about educators who were chosen Teacher of the Year for their respective schools. Teachers are representing schools from both the Deer Creek and Edmond school districts.)
The loss of a family member was the turning point for DeGiacomo in relation to her profession.
“I lost my sister to suicide eight years ago, and that has affected my purpose for teaching and for showing up each day to work,” DeGiacomo said. “She suffered from severe depression, and after experiencing this loss and grief and after watching her suffer through depression, it made me passionate about helping kids understand mental health and trying to understand kids who deal with similar things.”
She and her husband, Corey DeGiacomo, met while attending college at Oklahoma Baptist University and have been married for six and a half years. They are foster parents for a 19-month-old daughter, Mariah.
“As I became a foster parent, I learned more about what trauma does to the human brain, especially in a developing child, and how that affects learning,” Leah said. “My students are so much more than a test score or grade. I want each of them to know that they are loved, and I will learn and do whatever I can to help them become a whole person.”
DeGiacomo said if she can make a difference for just a few students each year, they can then go out and treat more and more people with kindness and empathy.
“And they can go on to do great and amazing things,” DeGiacomo said.
After taking off for half a year to work as an administrative director for an office, DeGiacomo realized that more pay and less stress weren’t really what made her world go round.
“I missed the kids and I wasn't doing something I was passionate about,” she said. “I came back because I knew I wanted to spend my life doing something that mattered to me, something that I believed in, and a place where I knew I could serve others and make a real difference.”
Her husband was working in Edmond and the schools had a great reputation, DeGiacomo said.
“We bought a house in the Edmond area, so I wanted to get a job at an Edmond school,” she said.
DeGiacomo earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education and her Bachelor's of Arts in Spanish at OBU.
She teaches reading, language arts, writing, spelling, Social Studies, and math. Her students go to specials classes, like P.E. and music. She works with students who might need a little more one-on-one support in small groups.
DeGiacomo switches with another teacher who teaches science to her students while she teaches Social Studies to the other class.
“I sprinkle in brain breaks throughout the day to keep the kids moving,” DeGiacomo.”I have a Monday Meeting and I give out weekly awards, and we share our ‘Peak and Pit’ from the weekend. We finish our day with story time each day.”
DeGiacomo said she went into education because she loves working with students and she wanted to make a difference.
“I am able to use this platform to serve others and to show children unconditional love and acceptance, and to give them a safe place where they can grow and become life-long learners,” DeGiacomo said.
She believes education is important for students today not necessarily because of the content that they learn, but because they are learning life skills and learning how to treat other people. “They learn respect, responsibility, and problem-solving, which are skills that they will always need,” DeGiacomo said. “I hope to teach them to treat everyone they meet with kindness and respect.”
As a teacher she said she has learned that it’s okay to be flexible and to change plans.
“It is okay to stop working sometimes and play board games with your kids or joke around with them and just enjoy them,” DeGiacomo said.
She added she believes all children can learn, and if given a safe place where they feel accepted and understood, they will be free to learn.
“Every child needs something different, and it is our job to meet them where they are and to guide them in their learning,” DeGiacomo said.
She loves to read, go for walks, and spend time with her family and cat, Gina. She also enjoys baking and traveling.
She volunteers with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and she and her husband are a part of Lilyfield, their agency for fostering.