In May, St. Norbert Catholic School principal Joe Ciccoianni gave students an important assignment: choose which teacher has made a difference in their lives and share why.
The votes were tallied, and submissions reviewed. Veteran teachers Minju Yeo and Camille Denton were at the top of the list.
Both received the school’s Nano Nagle Award, recognizing their impact in the classroom and embodiment of the foundress of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, several of whom opened the Orange school more than 50 years ago.
“It’s such a joy to be able to recognize a teacher who was chosen by her students for providing exactly what they need,” Ciccoianni said.
First grade teacher Camille Denton grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and attended Catholic grade school and high school. After graduating from UCLA, she was unsure about her career path. She worked at USC for a short time as a project assistant in the school of medicine, pursuing a master’s in teaching while there.
She completed her student teaching at an elementary school in Fullerton followed by one year at an elite private school in Yorba Linda. But it wasn’t until she started at SNCS in 2016 that she was truly comfortable in the classroom.
“I felt like I was home, I was welcomed with open arms,” Denton said. “Here, teaching the kids is more meaningful because I can share my faith.”
A calming force in the classroom, Denton especially enjoys talking about the sacraments.
“The best part of teaching is having that bond with the kids, knowing I’ve had an impact on their lives,” Denton said.
First graders say Mrs. Denton is “nice and kind.”
In the upper grades, students overwhelmingly nominated fifth grade teacher Ms. Yeo.
Students say she makes learning fun, whether it’s American history reenactments or sitting in a circle to pray the Hail Mary together. Her Dojo Store gives students the opportunity to earn points that can be used to “buy” snacks, no-homework passes, seat swaps and more.
Minju, who would fix computers with her brother when growing up in New Jersey and then Pasadena, said she enjoys teaching students how to problem solve and watching their confidence build throughout the school year.
The UC Irvine graduate completed her student teaching at public school. When she got her first job at a Catholic school, “I knew it was different,” she said. Minju taught at
Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Habra for 16 years before the school closed and she was hired on at SNCS in 2020.
One student shared, “Ms. Yeo is always talking about God and how He helps us throughout life.”
Nano grew up in a wealthy family in Ireland in the 18th century, trading in a comfortable life to help the poor and sick. She secretly taught children to read, write and practice their Catholic faith despite penal laws that denied the Irish access to education and prohibited outward celebrations of their religion. She became known as the “Lady of the Lantern.”
The Nano Nagle Award has been an annual tradition at SNCS since 2009. This year, thanks to a generous donor, two awards were given along with a $1,000 check and a lantern for each recipient.