MIDDLEBURG – In a major victory for the County School District, Breyana Stilts, an Economics, Government and U.S. History Teacher at Middleburg High, was recently selected as the Warren Tracy …
MIDDLEBURG – In a major victory for the County School District, Breyana Stilts, an Economics, Government and U.S. History Teacher at Middleburg High, was recently selected as the Warren Tracy Teacher of the Year by the Florida Council for the Social Studies.
Stilts reflected on her journey to becoming an educator, how she instilled her unique teaching style in the classroom and the significance of bringing home the prestigious award to the county where she grew up.
Stilts never taught high school before being hired at Middleburg.
“I was shocked. This was only my first year at Middleburg. After hearing that I had won the award, I was honestly kind of thrown into a loop,” she said.
Stilts transitioned from a four-year career in the corporate banking world at Wells Fargo as an Account Resolution Specialist. She had only been an educator for one year prior to winning the award. She taught Intensive Reading to middle school children from sixth to eighth grade in Duval County in 2021-22.
Despite her surprise, Stilts attributed her success to the relationships she built with her students and her strong support from her colleagues.
“I built a really great relationship with my kids and had a really strong support system with the Social Studies team here, but even they couldn’t prepare me for the kids’ reaction (to the classes I taught),” she said.
Stilts was nominated by to students, colleagues and parents. Above all, she credited her students for the honor.
“That means they’re taking the extra effort. For some (students), it takes an effort just to get to school. To put in that extra effort and (take their time) to give a nomination is (impactful). They recognize how important this is to me,” Stilts said.
“To me, that means they have a greater appreciation for this country’s history than they did before. It means they take pride in their civic responsibilities and duties and actively participate in the community.”
Stilts’ teaching style is anything but traditional. She emphasizes a hands-on learning experience and ensures her students actively engage in their learning and exploration.
Instead of relying on traditional methods like textbooks and worksheets, she encourages movement and interaction in the classroom. “We don’t do a lot of paper-based work or typical work that you would think of when you see a history book. We move around a lot. Yesterday, we had a gallery walk where we walked around and viewed (photographs) from the Second Industrial Revolution. We talked about the effects of communications and steel and how they influenced that (era),” she said.
Her teaching philosophy centers students at the forefront of their learning. Stilts believes that students must take charge of their education and be responsible for their learning.
“I can guide them, but they need to make it happen for themselves,” she said.
Stilts’ teaching style draws inspiration from her own experiences as a student. Stilts said Oakleaf High Principal Matthew Boyack, who taught her world history at Orange Park, made an everlasting impact.
“He had such an impact on me that I still remember how I felt in the classroom. That’s the kind of classroom (environment) that I want to create,” she said.
Middleburg Principal Martin Aftuck, who was Stilts’ Principal at Orange Park while she was a student, also played an influential role, Stilts said.
Stilts expressed gratitude for the blessing she had the opportunity to work with fellow educators who molded her teaching style.
Her economics and government coursework focuses on preparing students for real-life scenarios, like filing taxes, budgeting, calculating deductions, planning finances, registering to vote and analyzing political platforms. There is no greater honor than representing the county. “I don’t think there’s any greater than being able to represent (my) community,” she said.
The hard work required to achieve the award is nothing new for Stilts. She earned her online Master of Library and Information Science from Wayne State in May while teaching children across Northeast Florida for the past two years. Her journey toward the award was not a one-time event but a continuing daily commitment.
“Every single day in the classroom is a testament to your teaching style. There are no missed opportunities. You have to come in every day and be ready to deliver an engaging lesson,” Stilts said.