When Mackenzie Caquatto isn’t balancing handstands or posting perfect scores on bars, she’s teaching the alphabet.
You can find the aspiring teacher tutoring children a few blocks from the UF campus at the Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County following her Monday morning conditioning regiment.
She visits the kids on Wednesdays too.
“Ever since I was little, I always used to play teacher with my friends like every little kid,” Caquatto said. “I kind of decided that was where I wanted to go with my life.”
The Naperville, Ill., native is working towards a degree in special education.
Most days, she takes part in weekly practice and dual meets. But two days a week, she holds a 75-minute tutoring session.
If she isn’t busy watching her practice footage, she’s structuring lesson plans and coming up with creative ideas for activities for her student mentee, a 6-year-old named Emaney.
“Preparing lesson plans can take quite a long time,” Caquatto said. “Presenting those lesson plans is kind of like competition. You know what you want the outcome to be but you don’t know if it’s going to end up that way.”
Teaching — much like the beginning of her junior season — was more challenging than she originally thought.
Earlier this year, Caquatto struggled to return to her 2012 form. She earned All-America first-team honors at the NCAA Championships on uneven bars. She posted scores of 9.85 and 9.25 in her first two meets.
After weeks of training and tweaking her routine, she has strung together five scores of 9.9, boosting her season average to 9.83. She remains the only athlete in the NCAA to post a perfect 10 in the event.
Still, Caquatto finds time to improve lesson plans for her mentee.
For one of her creative projects Caquatto assembled a plastic word box for Emaney. At every meeting, Caquatto has Emaney choose a few words from the weekly reading to drop in the box. Caquatto does the same, but jokingly admits that her student doesn’t always pick the most challenging word.
“She usually picks the ones that she knows,” Caquatto said. “And then I pick one she doesn’t know.”
When they revisit the box, Caquatto tests Emaney’s knowledge of the words. For every three words Emaney understands, Caquatto gives the kindergartner a sticker to decorate the box.
So far, Emaney has collected 25.
“She’s still young, so it’s kind of hard to come up with really creative projects,” Caquatto said. “I just try to keep her engaged.”
But Emaney isn’t the only one who benefits from Caquatto’s teachings.
Bridgette Caquatto, Mackenzie’s younger sister, regularly seeks her advice. When Bridgette was recovering from shoulder and knee surgery, Mackenzie was a source of comfort. Mackenzie had been there before, suffering two ankle injuries during the 2011 U.S. World Championships.
“[Mackenzie is] going to be a really good teacher someday,” Bridgette said. “She’ll act like a kid with the kids, so they’ll really enjoy (her).”
Bridgette wasn’t shy about Mackenzie’s height, either.
“If she comes up in a fifth or fourth grade class, half of her boy students are going to be taller than her,” Bridgette said.
Mackenzie Caquatto performs on the beam during UF’s 196.575-190.55 win against Ball State on Jan. 4 in the O’Connell Center.