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Excellence in Education

Opening Doors for Young Learners

Article by Sue Baldani

Photography by Lindsey Wagers/Wagers Photography

Originally published in Topeka City Lifestyle

Founded by a group of families in 1982 with an enrollment of only 43 students, Topeka Collegiate has grown tremendously in the past 41 years. As of today, over 2000 students in the community have passed through its doors, and later, found themselves walking through the doors of Harvard, Yale, Duke, Georgetown and many other esteemed colleges and universities. It remains Topeka’s only independent college preparatory school for children in pre-K through 8th grade.

With a curriculum focused on math, science, history, reading, and writing skills, students are also heavily exposed to Spanish, computer science, music, and art in a way that promotes a lifelong love of learning. 

In addition to an exemplary education, students reap the benefits of the school’s mission, which is to inspire and prepare every student for a successful future through academic excellence, active citizenship, and humanitarian ideals. Its students are greatly involved in giving back to nonprofit organizations and charity events such as the Nancy Perry Day of Caring, Senior Center holiday visitations, Harvesters, United Way, and the Red Cross.

Athleticism and team spirit are also promoted through physical education classes in every grade and with co-ed soccer, volleyball, basketball, and track and field in middle school. Its sports teams compete against different schools within the Topeka Parochial League. 

Every student is valued for his or her own uniqueness and the school provides a nurturing and inclusive environment where students are allowed to shine in their own individual ways. Integrity and compassion is fostered during every school day.

While the leadership is top notch, so are the teachers. Students' standardized test scores have consistently placed them among the highest-achieving independent school students in the country. Here, let’s get to know some of the educators who create the magic in the classroom. 

Kelley Berryman

Kindergarten Teacher and Middle School Volleyball Coach

Having just finished her 26th year of teaching at Topeka Collegiate, Kelley Berryman understands the perspective of being both a teacher and a parent at the school; her two children attended Topeka Collegiate from pre-K through 8th grade. 

“My hope is that every child takes away the gift of the love and excitement of learning, confidence in themselves and their abilities, and feeling valued as an individual and as part of a team,” she says.

She also truly values her own team – at school and at home. “I was able to teach through chemotherapy treatment this past fall and winter with the support of my amazing colleagues and family,” she says.

During her free time, Kelley loves watching and attending sporting events as well as doting on her grandchild. “I became a grandma for the first time to a beautiful baby girl at the end of April!”

Elian Mota

Middle School Language Arts Teacher

For Elian Mota, sharing his love of language arts with children is a joy. “I have a knack for and enjoy explaining things, and helping others is fulfilling to me,” he says. “Teaching is one of the things that lets me engage with all of those aspects of myself.”

A teacher for 18 years, he joined Topeka Collegiate in 2015. “The freedom, trust, and support the school leaders give their teachers here was particularly attractive to me.” In his classroom, Elian hopes every child feels like they have “a voice, a language, and a faculty for critical thought that is as valid, as beautiful, and as powerful as anyone else’s.”

Outside of the classroom, Elian enjoys playing the digital collectible card game Magic: The Gathering and spending time with family. “We just got a puppy; his name is Peanut Butter Ignacio, but we call him Nacho.”

Ken Park

4th Grade Teacher and Assistant Director of Summer Blast Camp

Ken Park credits his own teachers with giving him the desire to educate others. The one who made the biggest impact though was his drum/percussion teacher. “He had a passion for teaching and instilled in me the desire to learn and to make a difference in the world through teaching and education,” he says.

Having just completed his 27th year of teaching, he still carries that passion for music. “I’ve given drum lessons since I was in high school, and over the years I’ve played in pop, rock, blues and jazz bands, and orchestras.”

Ken joined Topeka Collegiate in 1996. “What attracted me most was the independent school philosophy, the high academic standards, small class size, inclusiveness, and parents who are actively involved in their child’s education.” He hopes his students will continue to learn and try new things, without the fear of failure.

Sheri Rippel

Pre-K Teacher

For Sheri Rippel, being an educator is in her blood. “I've been teaching since I was 5 and had a class full of stuffed animals,” she says. “My grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse, and I have a dozen other close relatives who were educators.”

A teacher for 11 years, she joined Topeka Collegiate in 2019. “When I saw a vacancy in Topeka Collegiate's early childhood program, I jumped at it, not realizing I would find my school home. When I interviewed, I learned a lot about the school's history and mission, and most importantly for me, its focus on providing a diverse, beyond-the-book learning environment that encourages critical thinking and embraces social emotional learning.”

Sheri’s other passion is theatre. “Being a community theatre volunteer has brought immeasurable riches to my life. Connections, relationships, growth opportunities, leadership challenges - it has transformed my life.”

Visit CityLifestyle.com/Topeka to view additional photos from this article. 

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