From a young age, current Derby Middle School reading intervention specialist Rebecca Saldivar found teaching was pretty much in her blood. Both her mom and her sister were teachers and Saldivar recalls leading lessons with her dolls and stuffed animals, always asking her brother if they could play school.
“I think it’s just always been a part of my family and always something I’ve wanted to do,” Saldivar said.
Education is clearly important to Saldivar – a fitting example of the individuals honored during American Education Week (Nov. 16-20), which is intended to celebrate the ensured quality public education opportunities for all students.
A long story
Saldivar has been working at Derby Middle School for going on three years, but she has been serving students in USD 260 much longer than that – working in the district for more than three decades now.
Originally, Saldivar student taught at Pleasantview Elementary before taking her first job as a reading teacher at Wineteer Elementary. The Kansas City native and graduate of Wichita State University got married and took a job in Overland Park for one year before coming back to take a second grade position at Derby Hills Elementary – a position she held for 32 years.
Pursuing a master’s degree in reading at the start of her teaching career, that passion remained, which ultimately led Saldivar to take the job as reading intervention specialist with Derby Middle School in 2018.
“I always missed teaching those kids that were struggling. There had been several openings along the way where I could have gone and taken a reading position, but I really liked the classroom so much that I never kind of followed up on that until the middle school job came open,” Saldivar said. “These guys have got to get their reading skills up to grade level and I feel like I’ve got to really work hard not only to get them to where they need to be but also to build that love of reading so that they want to pick up a book, they want to read, they find out that reading is fun and you learn things when you read.”
While Saldivar thought she was always making a difference as a second grade teacher, she has seen how much more of a difference she can make getting back into reading full-time.
Sparking a passion
An avid reader herself, Saldivar said getting her first set of books – the “Little House on the Prairie” series – as a birthday present helped build that interest. The original airing of the television show along with a trip to Wichita’s Cowtown around the same time helped galvanize that.
Her own interest reinforced the importance of reading to Saldivar, which helped dictate her teaching focus and led her to try and foster that in others – knowing how difficult that can be.
“Reading is something that doesn’t come naturally for a lot of people. It’s kind of a mystery almost where you’re trying to figure out what is happening that is making it difficult for you to read and then filling in those gaps so things click,” Saldivar said. "You have to be very patient and very understanding.”
Saldivar’s friends and sister (a former Derby High School teacher) encouraged her to make the leap to teaching at the middle school level, something she has found she thoroughly enjoys.
With her years of experience Saldivar was prepared for the transition, with those positions teaching reading and second grade being a big help in reading intervention. While there is a curriculum to follow, Saldivar said she has some freedom to utilize her own strategies in helping students – as well as bringing in some of her favorite books to help spark that interest in reading.
All in the family
Moving in with her older sister – the teacher – in high school after her mom passed away is what Saldivar credits putting her on the path to being an educator. While she initially pursued a degree in psychology at the start of college, her family history and experience as a Sunday School teacher during high school got her on the teaching track.
“They were my kids. They were my classroom,” Saldivar said. “I was still playing school basically.”
Being a parent also helped shap her as an educator, Saldivar admitted, as it is something that made her more aware of her influence.
Over the years, Saldivar noted she has focused on building connections and fostering relationships with students and parents as a successful educational strategy. She has seen it work in her second grade classroom and hopes it can be just as beneficial to her students at Derby Middle School.
“You know that saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child?’ It really does,” Saldivar said. “Maybe you don’t always have the same ideas on things but when you can sit down and you can talk in the best interest of the child you get so much more done and it’s so much more beneficial for everyone.”