By: Amber Estelle
I’ll never forget the day my whole class ate mini chocolate cakes in kindergarten. That week in school, our teacher had presented us with a new idea. She asked the class if we would be able to work on this concept. The response was a resounding, “Piece of cake!” A popular phrase at that time, meaning that these kindergartners thought we knew everything there was to know about this, and we could easily handle the novel task set before us. The very next day, our teacher played along with our good humor and brought in mini chocolate cakes for everyone to celebrate our “piece of cake” victory over new ideas.
I’ve kept in touch with my first, and one of my favorite, teachers over the years. I mentioned this story to her recently. She couldn’t quite recall the activities of that week in kindergarten, but I still did. It showed me that teachers are always listening and hearing their students, and it taught me that they care about the morale and spirit of their students just as they care about the educational aspects of the classroom. That seemingly small event left lasting impressions. How many more stories are out there like this of teachers who are making similar impacts every day
These impacting teachers deserve to be recognized for their efforts. Each year, the Community Foundation gives one great teacher in Henry County the Teacher Excellence Award. This award is designed to elevate teachers who are encouraging students to achieve their goals.
The fund for the Teacher Excellence Award started in the early 2000s by anonymous donors. Inspired by the generosity of Danny and Patty Danielson, these donors wanted to do something positive for the community, too.
When deciding what their fund would be, they saw lots of scholarships being awarded to students and wanted teachers to receive something as well. Having teachers close to them, they saw how much teachers do without reward or recognition, and they wanted to give back to them.
“We wanted the funds to be unrestricted, so teachers who win the award could use it however they want or need. They could spend it on their class if they wanted to, or they could use it any way they see fit,” explained one of the donors.
So, they met with the Foundation and got started on their fund. The first award went out to Debra Hicks. Since then, fourteen other outstanding teachers have received this honor. These exceptional educators include Judy Hubbard, Stephanie DeLoughery, Rick Penn, April Isaacs, Tracy Young, Art Edinger, Carissa Brammer, Nancy Wadman, Cheri Estelle, Shanna Smucker, Lou Nell Richardson, Angela Miller, Emily Whaley, and Angie Talbott.
Last year’s award winner, Angie Talbott, loves teaching and going in to work every day. She enjoys watching students grow personally and professionally. She shared, “nothing is as rewarding as having a previous student come back and tell you about all of his or her accomplishments and knowing that I was a small part of it at the beginning of their journey.” Receiving the award came as a shock to her. But she was honored to be recognized. She went on to say, “This has given me even more incentive to do more and do it even better! The recognition has inspired me to work harder.”
This is just the experience that the donors had hoped for in setting up the award. Because of their wish to uplift teachers, they want none of the spotlight for themselves and choose to continue with their anonymity. They expressed, “The big thing is for the teacher to have the recognition and the reward. They work hard and get very little pay. It’s a tough job. They deserve a reward to use in any way they feel like they need to, as well as recognition, because they don’t get enough of that.”
It’s no secret that the school experience through the Covid-19 pandemic has been difficult for students and teachers alike. When the country went into lock-down during the spring of 2020, teachers were quick to find new ways to keep kids learning and engaged. As the current school year started, teachers adjusted their classrooms, lesson plans, and teaching methods. Through the ups and downs of sickness, quarantine, and virtual learning, teachers continue to provide positive learning experiences, as well as emotional support, to their students.
What better time to encourage and lift up an educator who has gone above and beyond for their students? The ideal candidate for this award is inspiring, creative, committed, enduring, encouraging, and possibly even cake-contributing. While that describes many of our local teachers, consider taking the time to nominate someone you know that is making a difference in the lives of local kids.
Any current full-time teacher in a Henry County public school can be nominated for the award. Parents, students, peers, community citizens, or anyone who has had a direct experience with the teacher can make the nomination. To complete the nomination form, please visit https://www.henrycountycf.org/grants/teacher-excellence-award/.
Nominations are due by March 26.
For questions or additional assistance, please contact the office at 765.529.2235