Teacher Feature: Jewett School of the Art’s Lauren Cerati
By James Coulter
Love. Patience. Kindness. Devotion. These are the qualities found in some of the best teachers, and these are the qualities that have earned Lauren Cerati (pronounced ser-rah-tee), kindergarten teacher of Jewett School of the Arts (JSA) in Winter Haven, the title of 2013 Teacher of the Year for JSA. This honor places Cerati in the running for the title and honor of Teacher of the Year for the county.
“You never think you are worthy of getting something this big, and for them to have chosen me, I was in shock,” Cerati, 32, says. “I feel honored to know that my colleagues think very highly of me, and think that I am good enough to represent Jewett.”
For 10 years, Cerati has devoted her time, energy, and love to her students and co-workers at JSA, a choice school with a focus on the arts, caring for their successes and well-being as if they were her own family — and as far as she is concerned, they very well are.
“She gives 110 percent all the time,” says Debbie Price, a second grade teacher at Spessard Holland Elementary in Bartow. “[Cerati] is willing to give of herself, of her time, and of her money. She gives all to her classroom and her students. She gets involved with them, on a personal level as well as a professional level. She gets to know the family, and she takes a personal interest in their lives.”
A lifelong friend, Price worked at Lake Alfred Elementary School with Cerati’s mother, then the school’s cafeteria manager. In high school, Cerati would babysit Price’s children, and she continues to do so even to this day, as Price trusts no one else to look after her children.
Cerati has always loved children. Through high school and college, she worked at daycares and as a babysitter. These jobs would inspire her to pursue a teaching career.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Cerati lived there with her family until kindergarten, when they moved to Winter Haven. After graduating Winter Haven High School in 1999, she attended Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina through a soccer scholarship.
Unsure of what to do after college, she was encouraged by Price to become an elementary school teacher. Cerati graduated with a sociology degree (allowing her to graduate on time) and returned to Winter Haven to become certified in teaching.
For one year, Cerati taught at Hope Elementary School, a part of Hope Presbyterian Church in Winter Haven. With help from Price, she landed a job interview at Jewett School of the Arts, and was hired on the spot. She has been teaching at JSA ever since.
“Only being a second year teacher, it was very hard to be hired,” Cerati says. “A lot of the same teachers stayed, so unless someone was retiring, it was hard to be hired on here. So that was a high point at getting the opportunity to teach here.”
As someone who has worked with children all her life, Cerati understands from experience that the easiest way into a child’s mind is through their heart. By showing that she genuinely loves them and cares for their well-being, she allows her students to be more receptive of her and her lessons.
“I think a teacher first needs to develop a true relationship with every child and family in their class before you can even begin teaching, because when the child trusts you, they are going to work for you,” she says.
As a gardener carefully tends to her garden, so, too, does Cerati tend to her class, making sure that each of her students receives the care and attention they require for their minds to blossom. This personalized attention is especially crucial in kindergarten when children first lay the foundation of their schooling.
Teaching at an arts-centered school, her students are privileged to unleash their creativity and expand their horizons through dance, theater, music, visual arts, computer, and P.E. The children take a bit of each of the disciplines in the younger grades and then are allowed to pick a “major” in the fourth grade and above.
Cerati’s class is not merely a collection of students. Each and every one is an individual, and she treats them as such, realizing that some children need more care than others. Some received pre-school; others did not. Some come from healthy homes; others from broken families. Each one is different and special and Cerati recognizes this.
Though she is full of love, her love can sometimes be tough. She is as firm as she is caring; strict as she is forgiving. Even when she is at her harshest, it is only because she cares for her students and only wants what is best for them.
“I think the kids know I love them,” she says. “You push them. You are hard on them because you want them to succeed. I think at the end of the day they know that I really do care about them.”
Her ability to relate with children and allow them to reach their potential has made her popular among parents, setting herself apart as a teacher they seek to oversee their children’s education.
“I never get any negative calls about her,” says principal Michael Sears. “Everything is always positive with her. I have parents that have had her previously wanting other students to try and get into her classroom, so she is one of my most requested teachers on the kindergarten level.”
Currently, Cerati is unmarried and hasn’t any children of her own. Both of her parents passed away from lung cancer — her father first, then her mother. So aside from her three sisters, Cerati’s school is the closest thing to family that she has.
“Her students love her,” Price says. “She shows in her students what an excellent job she does, as well as the fact that she stays devoted to her family. She is very much a family person, and as much time she puts into her own family, that never takes away from the classroom. She devotes so much time that her children become like her own.”
Cerati’s love and compassion is not merely reserved to her students. She equally shares it with her fellow co-workers, maintaining a healthy relationship with them and cooperating with them to ensure their school’s overall success.
Though teaching comes easily to her, her biggest challenge is the paperwork that comes with it, for which she spends many hours after work completing. However, if it means her students’ success, she says, then it is more than time well spent.
Many of Cerati’s students have gone on to succeed in life. Her love for them has also remained reciprocal, as many continue to keep in contact with her and even visit on occasion.
Cerati is pleased with what she has accomplished in her life, and will continue to devote it to what she loves most — teaching children.
“As of now, I am very happy here with Jewett School of the Arts,” she says. “I think I plan to stay here and further my education, but right now, I am really happy with what I do.”