Kathy Stipe received the Sioux City Catholic Diocese’s Excellence in Education Award.  Daily Times Herald photo by Larry Devine
Kathy Stipe received the Sioux City Catholic Diocese’s Excellence in Education Award.  Daily Times Herald photo by Larry Devine
Friday, October 26, 2012

Along with teaching such things as cell division, genetics, volcanoes and earthquakes, Kuemper Catholic middle school science teacher Kathy Stipe offers students some inspiration.

Stipe tells students, “Every day is a gift, a blessing. We should enjoy something in every one of our days.”

She has modeled that message in her career by her enthusiasm for science and caring for her students.

Stipe’s students and colleagues at Kuemper’s St. Lawrence Center cheered announcement of her recent Excellence in Education Award from the Catholic Diocese of Sioux City. She was honored this month at the annual Bishop’s Dinner for Catholic Schools in Sioux City.

She’s also received congratulations from former students and people throughout the community.

“It’s just been so heartwarming,” Stipe says. “I’ve had students email me and say they remembered things even many years down the line and they wanted to say thank you.”

Earl Schiltz, principal at St. Lawrence, which houses sixth through eighth grades, says of Stipe, “She’s an excellent teacher and works extremely well with students and faculty.”

Schiltz says she’s been successful due to “her positive affirmation of students and her ability to relate and connect with them.”

“Her classroom presentations are excellent,” he says. “She does a lot of hands-on work with students, so they’re involved in projects. She just makes it interesting. She knows the material inside-out. She’s able to get a lot out of the kids. They love her, and they love her class. We’re fortunate to have her.”

He adds, “She’s such a hands-on, positive person. She meets the needs of every student and does it very effortlessly. She’s a gem.”  

Schiltz says of students’ reaction to Stipe’s award, “Kids this age, we don’t think they get excited. But they do. They’re very proud of her.”

One former student who sent congratulations to Stipe is Katie Knudsen, who graduated from Kuemper High School this spring and is attending the University of Northern Iowa. Katie is a daughter of Rex and the late Sandy Knudsen, and her mom was a teaching colleague of Stipe’s before passing away of cancer.

Katie relates, “After graduating from Kuemper High School this past May, I found myself looking back on my 13 years as a Kuemper student where Mrs. Stipe stood out to be one of the teachers who left an especially great impact on me. She was my eighth-grade science teacher as well as my homeroom teacher. I particularly remember the day we were starting a new unit on cancer in science class. Before starting the unit Mrs. Stipe took me out into the hallway and made sure I was comfortable discussing the cancer unit taking into consideration what I had been through in the past. I lost my mom to cancer two years prior.

“This is just one example of how much compassion and care Mrs. Stipe showed her students. She would always put her students first and let them know how much she cared about us. Mrs. Stipe not only taught me a lot about academics but also about my spiritual life and just how to simply be a genuine person. She always had a positive attitude that she spread to everyone around her. Mrs. Stipe has truly been an inspiration to so many people including myself, and I feel blessed to have had her as a teacher.”

For her part, Stipe says the award represents the commitment of students and collaboration with colleagues and administrators.

Stipe has taught since 1983, although she took a few years away from the profession when her children were young. She has taught in local Catholic schools since 1999 — two years at the former Holy Trinity School in Templeton before joining the Kuemper staff in 2001 when the local Catholic school system consolidated.

This year, Stipe is teaching sixth-grade earth science and seventh-grade life science.

Earth science covers such topics as earthquakes, volcanoes, weather and space. Life science recently tackled a unit on cell division and cancer and will later focus on genetics, diversity of life with the different types of organisms, and the human body and all the body systems.

Stipe says of the importance of students gaining a solid science education, “They’re going to be responsible for this world as adults and understanding how it works. It’s really important when they’re going to make decisions as adults, how we’re taking care of things here. It’s a really important part of them being responsible citizens.”

Stipe has enjoyed working with middle-school students, saying, “This age group is enthusiastic. They get excited about things. And you never know what they’re going to say. Some days they make you laugh, and some days you just don’t know what to say. They’re just amazing. Every day is different. Every day is an adventure. I really enjoy this age group. They’re very kindhearted most of the time, and sometimes they really see it the way it is.”

Stipe is thankful for the opportunity to teach in Catholic schools.  

“It’s really nice because you can teach kids the facts, but when I can connect to what we believe in our Catholic religion it makes it even more relevant to their lives,” she says.

“I always felt with my own children plus with my students it just made it a more complete education. It feels like we’re touching more of them as a person. We’re influencing more of them as a person than just their knowledge. You can talk about values. You can talk about how to make good ethical decisions. And that’s all included with their beliefs and their faith life. All that is touched on in Catholic schools.”

Relating that to the accelerating technology changes, Stipe comments, “Just because we learn a new piece of technology doesn’t mean it’s right to do it or use it. There’s always a way to use it for good and always a way to use for not so good. And we have a responsibility to weigh that out when new things come down the pike in science. It’s really important to look at both sides of the story and think about whether it can result in good or evil.”  

Stipe changed direction in her studies on her way to a teaching career.  

After graduating from LaSalle Catholic High School in Cedar Rapids in 1979, she initially pursued a career in nursing but found herself overwhelmed.

“I got to my junior year and started clinicals (supervised practice) but just wasn’t comfortable,” she says. “I felt really responsible for everything, that you should have to know everything. Well, you can’t know everything. This (teaching) fits me much better.”

Stipe had two aunts and two uncles who were teachers, and she says, “I enjoy children.”

So she received her bachelor of arts degree in biology with teaching certification from Clarke College in Dubuque 1983 and then taught high school science at Malvern Community Schools from 1983 to ’88.

After taking time away from the profession to stay at home for her two children, she returned to teaching at St. James Catholic Elementary School in Washington, Iowa, in 1994. She taught at the former Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary School in Templeton before coming to Kuemper in 2001.

“You can be somewhat creative as a teacher,” she says of the profession. “It’s a good career to have along with raising a family. I’ve been involved with the kids’ activities, and being a teacher was another way to stay involved in the schools.”

Stipe is grateful for the congratulations she’s received for the Excellence in Education Award and says one of the biggest rewards of the jobs is seeing students go on to success.

“You see some kids who maybe struggled here but are now successful in high school or college, and to think you might have a little part in that is really rewarding,” she says.

The awards ceremony in Sioux City was an emotional moment for Stipe. First, she says, she was anxious about speaking before such a large crowd. But more importantly, it was an opportunity to thank her mom, who visited from Ashburn, Va., to see her daughter receive the award.

A daughter of Mike and Dorothy Barta, Kathy the middle of five children, was just 10 years old when her dad, who was a veterinarian, died of a rare auto-immune disease when he was 37.

 “Mom (she was a nurse and still volunteers in a hospital) raised us by herself,” Stipe says, “but she always made sure we went to Catholic schools, so that’s where the importance of being in a Catholic school came about. I’m very thankful about that.”

Her experience has inspired her to approach life with the attitude that every day is a gift.

Outside the classroom, Kathy enjoys walking, reading and traveling.

She and husband Dan, who was regional administrator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in Atlantic for 21 years and now is a resident treatment worker at Glenwood Resource Center, have been married 27 years and have two children. Daughter Dani graduated from Kuemper Catholic High School in 2006 and earned a degree in biology and graphics communication from the University of Northern Iowa in 2011. She’s starting her own screen-printing business. Son Joe graduated from Kuemper in 2007 and received a degree in biology from UNI in 2011. He’s a lab technician at REG biodiesel plant in Ralston. This summer Joe married Morgan Loew, daughter of Alan and Angie Loew of Carroll. Angie, a Carroll High School graduate who received her degree from UNI in May 2011, teaches third grade at Denison Community Schools.