She chose math over snakes and cold, and students win

Rockstar teacher Cindy Prentler

Kelloggsville — One after another, students in Cindy Prentler’s second-grade class seek her help while learning how to put numbers in order from largest to smallest.

“Which one is the smallest?” she asks each Southeast Kelloggsville Elementary student who approaches her desk.

The children proceed to count aloud: 10, 18, 20.

“You got it!” Prentler exclaims each time a student figures it out.

She sits down with them at their desks, meeting their eye level, or beside them as they work at their computers.

“When you sing it, you’ll get it,” Prentler says to second-grader Gisele Uwase about how to count using fives. “45, 50…, ” Prentler sings, encouraging Gisele to use the technique.

“Sometimes when we don’t know how to do stuff, she helps us,” Gisele says.

“It’s easy,” she said of math, “because (Prentler) gives us the steps for us to do. She gives us a little hint.”

Making Math Fun

The 39-year teaching veteran’s focus: making math fun for her students.

“It’s the ownership of their own learning,” Prentler said. “The excitement of getting it right. If I can make it ‘Yay! I got it!’ (level of) exciting, you take the fear out of it.”

A lover of math and numbers, Prentler’s enthusiasm shows through to her students and colleagues.

“Life is story problems,” she said. “I think in numbers. I do math problems in my sleep.”

Twice a week after school, Prentler tutors several of her students in math.

“At the beginning, there are the kids who would cry when it was math time. Now they’re excited about it. They enjoy what they’re doing.”

Bella Bengtsson enjoyed a recent lesson so much she couldn’t help but dance.

The second-grader achieved first place among her classmates on a math game by solving the most problems correctly, and in the fastest time.

“I’m so happy!” said Bella to high fives and cheers from her classmates and from Prentler, who offered her own high five.

From Snakes to Story Problems

Her students’ enthusiasm for math stems from Prentler’s own. But that enthusiasm didn’t come easy.

“As a kid, that was the subject that was probably the hardest for me. I could do it but I didn’t understand why I was doing it,” she recalled.

Growing up in Perry, east of Lansing, and graduating from Perry High School in 1978, Prentler said math was once her worst subject in school in her formative years.

But a rivalry with her brother spurred her to do better.

“Growing up, I always wanted to have the best report card,” she said.

But the classroom wasn’t where she initially thought she would have a career.

A 4-H leader from her senior year in high school through graduation from Michigan State University, she said she mulled becoming a forest ranger.

But a fear of snakes and a dislike of the cold changed her mind. The summer before starting at MSU, she decided to major in education.

“I was like ‘Yeah, no; I think I want to work with kids’” she recalled.

Prentler graduated from MSU with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classroom teaching and started teaching creative writing at Lakeview Public Schools in 1983. For three years she taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade math and history at Riverside Public Schools.

She got a job at Kelloggsville Public Schools next, and taught sixth-grade students for the following 25 years. About five years ago, she switched to teaching second grade.

“I decided I needed a challenge,” she said.

A Loving Approach

Second-grade teacher Ashley McKeeby has seen Prentler’s approach to teaching from her room across the hall over the past five years.

“Cindy cares deeply for her students,” McKeeby said. “Her love for reading and enjoying texts shines through and is passed along for her students.”

‘At the beginning (of the school year) there are the kids who would cry when it was math time. Now they’re excited about it. They enjoy what they’re doing.’

— Cindy Prentler, second-grade teacher at Southeast Kelloggsville Elementary

Southeast Kelloggsville Elementary Principal Jeremy Palmitier said Prentler “takes the extra time to get to know the ‘why’ of each student, getting to know what drives them, what their fears are, and ultimately, building relationships with them through attempting to view the world as each of the individuals do.”

His respect and admiration for her, he said, comes not from all the visible traits seen daily, “but rather the behind-the-scenes, intentional planning she puts in that helps students develop that intrinsic motivation and desire to learn.”

Debbie Luchies is a one-on-one aide for Prentler’s student, Faith Thompson.

“She’s a wonderful teacher,” Luchies said. “I like how she explains things to the kids. She’s been teaching so long, she has the experience. She wants all the kids to thrive and get a good education.”

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Sean Bradley is a DeWitt native who has worked as a news reporter in several cities in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. He moved to Grand Rapids in March 2022 to be closer to the entertainment scene including live music and comedy. After graduating in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in journalism from Central Michigan University, he started his writing career at the Manistee News Advocate, covering city government and law enforcement. He later moved onto The Morning Sun in Alma, and in 2018, went to the Livingston Daily Press and Argus. At these newspapers, he covered school boards and got to know superintendents and staff, learning the ins and outs of education reporting. He is excited to be reporting on Kelloggsville Public Schools for School News Network.

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