Passion for Teaching

Local teacher receives state award

As a high school student, Tonya Thorbahn volunteered to work with a young man with Down Syndrome. “I just fell in love with the classroom and the experience,” she said. “When I came to the University of Findlay, I knew I was going to pursue special education, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Originally from Maria Stein, Ohio, Tonya made Findlay her home after graduating from UF. She is now in her 13th year working at Findlay City Schools where she’s an Intervention Specialist at Bigelow Hill Intermediate, working with students in grades 3-5.

Creating fun and innovative educational opportunities

Tonya is a passionate educator who forges community partnerships to give her students access to fun and innovative educational opportunities. Taking a cue from Google, she implemented “Genius Hour” in her classroom and gives her students 20% of their time to work on a project that inspires them. “I’ve watched my students create music, raise money for hurricane victims and study Miranda Rights,” she says. “It’s amazing to see learning transcend the classroom.”

Beyond Genius Hour, Tonya seeks to make her classroom a place where every student can thrive. She adjusted the fluorescent lighting in her room, instead using ambient lighting, and also offered students a variety of seating options while integrating technology into the classroom. “It helps me reach my students and it keeps me motivated to prepare them for what is ahead for them in life,” she explains.

Connecting with the community

By making connections in the community, Tonya receives support and funding for her ideas. She was a recipient of Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grant, which she used to create a Makerspace in the Bigelow Hill building. And thanks to a relationship with G.S.W. Manufacturing and the Findlay Village Mall, she implemented a district wide Cardboard Challenge, where elementary school students competed to construct challenges and games out of cardboard, drawing a large crowd to the mall.

Other financial support enabled Tonya to launch a Summer LEGO Camp and LEGO Robotics Team for Bigelow Hill students. The team entered a competition, despite having had far less preparation time than the other teams. “They placed 6th out of 25 teams in the coding portion. Watching them work with other teams, perfect their codes, and speak to judges was a defining moment in my career. They nailed it and they rocked it. I was so proud of them that day,” says Tonya.

Honored by Ohio

This year Tonya received an outstanding honor from the state of Ohio. She was named the 2020 Ohio Teacher of the Year for District 1 by the Ohio Department of Education. When she learned about the award, Tonya was speechless. “I honestly couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I called my husband and couldn’t even get the words out to tell him, he thought there was something wrong at home.”

Among the 11 Ohio teachers receiving this award, Tonya was selected as one of four finalists. This fall she will learn if her District 1 award will lead her to be named the statewide Ohio Teacher of the Year for 2020. Public recognition, however, isn’t what keeps Tonya going. “What motivates me is just every day working with my students and helping to meet their needs,” she said.

What are your favorite activities when you are not in the classroom?
I enjoy being outdoors and spending time at our family pond.

What do you like best about Findlay?
It feels like home! Findlay offers so many different options for my family.

What is your favorite take-out food option?
I love to order from the Greek Garden.

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