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Teachers have lasting impact

Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame said it best, “Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.” This year, National Teacher Appreciation Week is May 8-12. I am sure many of us remember teachers who played an important role in our lives. I hear stories about Miss Burnquetta Johnson, who helped raise an entire generation of elementary school children in Demopolis with love and discipline, and still keeps up with “her children” today. Others recall the English lessons taught to them by Mrs. Kayte Melton and Mrs. Jane Ellen Stritzinger.   

Amanda Barnes is the executive director of the Demopolis City Schools Foundation.

Demopolis continues to be blessed with many great teachers that our children will fondly remember. In my role as Executive Director of the Demopolis City School Foundation, I have the privilege to get to know many of today’s teachers and see the work they put into making school lessons relevant in our current world. It should come as no surprise that teachers have great ideas about how to make their classrooms excellent. Therefore, for Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to take you on a virtual tour of our schools and highlight some of the amazing work our teachers are doing.

At Westside Elementary, teachers are working to build the foundations for learning. Just this past week, I saw how second grade teachers are using LEGOs as a tool for reading, writing, and language skills. Students in Terri Speegle’s class were working in groups to build the scenes for the story they had just read. There was some debate about exactly what happened in the story — which reminded me a little of some meetings I have attended — but in the end, each group finished the project and gave a verbal report on their choices.  They also wrote in a journal about their favorite scene. The children were so excited to show their work, and you could see the perfect intersection of soft skills like art, creativity, and teamwork with the hard skills of reading and writing.   

Educators at US Jones are building on these skills. Every student at US Jones is learning computer programming, working with Dot and Dash robots once a week. I visited Amelia Mackey’s computer lab and saw groups of two and three students creating computer programs to move robots through a maze or complete a task. Their programs did not always work right the first time. Nevertheless, with perseverance and a determination you might not always see at home, these boys and girls ended up figuring out how to complete their tasks. These skills are key to a productive 21st Century workforce, and we are developing them today in Demopolis.

I like to tell my board members that middle school is exactly the way we all remember it – endearing in an awkward and ever-changing way.  Teaching children in these years is a special calling, and Demopolis Middle School teachers are skillful at managing it with good-natured affection and grace. DMS has focused strongly on improving communication and writing skills for all students. Over the past two summers, teachers have developed new strategies and programs to integrate language arts in everything they do — even learning life skills. Mrs. Laura Holley, the counselor at DMS, conducted a book study using the popular book “Wonder” to open discussion about kindness that completely changed the classroom atmosphere. I am sure we can all agree the world needs a little more kindness.

Demopolis High School offers so much for our students in a rural community — from college preparation to technical education. There is a wide variety of classes from which our students may choose. Today’s students have grown up with technology and use it as an extension of themselves. As a result, teachers have designed assignments around these skills. The day I visited Mrs. Kim Browder’s classroom, after reading and outlining a chapter with old-fashioned books, paper and pencils, student teams were developing a visual presentation about the Gold Rush on their classroom laptops. Watching these creative scenes come to life, I was reminded of the work done by our second graders with LEGOs and how the education process had come full circle.

Teacher Appreciation Week is a time set aside to remember and honor those who make it their life’s calling to educate our children: the next generation of citizens and community leaders. In the age of social media, it is easy to take a negative story from another part of the country and apply it to all schools or teachers. This week is a great time to remember that Demopolis is fortunate to have an outstanding public school system and much of that is due to committed educators in each school. Take some time this week to reach out to the teachers you know — past and present — in appreciation for the work they do. If you are able to read this now, thank a teacher.

— Amanda Barnes is the executive director of the Demopolis City Schools Foundation.

(This column originally appeared in the Wednesday, May 3, print edition of the Demopolis Times.)