By Nicholette Carlson
PIERCETON — A reading interventionist and Title I teacher at Pierceton Elementary School, Mary Helen Gensch took her own struggles as a child and uses those lessons to help children now. “I struggled with reading as a kid and my third-grade teacher discovered how to make me feel proud of myself. My reading grew that year,” Gensch explained. “I decided I wanted to help kids feel the same way.”
A Pierceton resident for 23 years, Gensch graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Greenville College in Greenville, Ill., double majoring in elementary education and special education. “My mother was an elementary teacher and I remember playing teacher as a child with my stuffed animals and dolls,” she admitted. “I have enjoyed children and during high school I would tutor others. It seemed a natural choice for me.”
Working with four assistants, Gensch has been in her current position for 11 years. She works primarily with kindergarten, first- and second-grade students with their reading as well as some third-grade students. She also works alongside fellow teacher, Suzie Slocum, who is in her first year as the Title I teacher helping third- through sixth-grade students.
Gensch moved to the area when she became engaged to her husband, Rick, who lived in Warsaw. In 1991, she began a position at Harrison Elementary School as a special education teacher working with students with emotional handicaps. She found her job at Pierceton Elementary in 1994, beginning as a special education teacher for third- through fifth-grade students. From 2001 to 2009, Gensch acted as the instructional coach in the writer’s workshop, coaching teachers and conferring with student writers. She also began to blog at Booksavors, finding book recommendations for teachers and parents with teaching strategies for reading and writing skills. She continues to post books to the Booksavors Instagram.
“I believe it is important to connect students with books,” she emphasized. “The more reading they experience, whether read to them or reading it themselves, children grow deeper in comprehension and grow stronger roots of empathy and character.”
Budget changes brought Gensch to her current position in 2009. In this role, it is her goal to not only help teach students the skills to read but also teach them to believe that they are a reader. Since she can empathize with the difficulty of letters not connecting into words, she has a vested interest in seeing her students succeed. “They just need to believe,” she admitted. “And I plan to be one person who is there cheering them on.”
Before coming to Pierceton, she began the first two years of her teaching career at the Santiago Christian School in the Dominican Republic teaching second grade. After returning to the U.S., she taught at Brownstown High School for one year in the special education resource classroom where she admitted she gained a lot of character and a lot of stories, but also a lot of stress.
Currently she is collaborating with various grade levels, recording reading and writing lessons and reading books aloud for her students to watch while at home. Gensch has also began writing a letter to every kid she works with and mailing it to them. “I love receiving responses from students,” she stated. “Some have written me back and it’s a little present in the mail. I send them ‘hugs’ through the mail.”
Gensch enjoys organizing, reading, writing, baseball, history, spending time with family, and reviewing books and posting online. She hopes to someday write a professional book for teachers about using picture books with lessons.
She and her husband, Rick, have three children: Wesley, Elizabeth and Tim, all Whitko High School graduates.