Polk State Education student has “Eye-Opening Experience” from field study published in newsletter

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

As Carmen Billante prepares to graduate from Polk State College later this year with her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, there has been more than one incident that has guided her path.

The latest was chronicled last week in the Florida Association of Science Teachers (FAST) newsletter. During her field study at Spook Hill Elementary School, Billante, 27, was inspired by teacher Cynara Appling.

“I had always envisioned myself as an English Language Arts teacher, that was until I observed Mrs. Appling’s science class,” she wrote in the recently published article. “Her enthusiasm and engaging teaching methods transformed my perception of science education. She managed to make the subject not only accessible but also enjoyable, keeping her fifth graders captivated and eager to learn.”

Appling, Billante explained, was a friend of her Polk State Professor, Milt Huling. Huling suggested that Billante observe Appling while on site at Spook Hill.

“When I stepped into her classroom, I saw how fun and engaging science can be,” she explained. “It’s very hands-on and if it’s done properly, it can be a very effective subject for teaching students.”

“Mrs. Appling’s classroom felt like one of the top educational environments in the county,” Billante wrote. “It was truly amazing seeing first-hand how one teacher can make such a difference. This experience has not only reshaped my career aspirations but also left me excited about the potential impact I can have as a future science teacher.”

It was also Huling who suggested that Billante submit her article titled, “An Eye-Opening Experience” for the FAST newsletter. After learning it would be published, Billante didn’t initially think much of it.

“It didn’t really feel like a big deal at first,” she said. “As I started to get more and more emails from people at Polk State and my colleagues started congratulating me, I realized how many people were going to see this.”

Becoming a difference maker herself

With new dreams of becoming an elementary school science teacher, Billante is scheduled to graduate in December. Billante first enrolled at Polk State as a dual enrollment student at Lake Wales High School in 2012. After leaving school in 2015 to become a wife to Alex Paez and a mother to their two children, Elijah, 6, and Manuel, 4, Billante was inspired to pursue a degree in education in 2021.

“I had changed my major so many times over the years,” she recalled. “It wasn’t until my oldest son started going to preschool that I realized how important education is. I realized how much of a difference I could make as a teacher.”

When she returned to college, teaching wasn’t completely foreign to Billante. As a former customer service representative, Billante often helped train her peers. Some of those skills, she said, have transferred over. Assisting in her return to college has been her husband, Alex.

“He’s been a big part of my journey,” Billante said. “He’s continued working to support us while I’ve gone back to school and pursued my dream. He’s been amazing.”

Launched in 2016 to address local workforce needs, the Polk State Elementary Education Program prepares graduates to teach children from kindergarten through sixth grade. The final internship is a 12-week placement where students assume the role of full-time teachers.

“Polk State has a very strong Education Program,” Billante added. “You’re going to be prepared to be the best teacher you can be. The professors are all amazing and really want to see you succeed.”