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A tribute to our teachers

Let’s face it... The year 2020 was one for the books—one that came with a learning curve for society. The adjustments we had to make last year carried over into 2021, and the effects of coronavirus underlined life’s “new normal.” Ask any student, parent, classroom instructor, or administrator and they’ll testify the world of education was and continues to be heavily impacted. Nonetheless, forward we go, thanks in part to educators. Take a moment to #ThankATeacher this week, May 3-7, during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Teachers change the lives of millions of children every day, and in a year where instruction can be virtual, in-person, or a mix of both, their immense work and impact have provided a much-needed sense of community and connection. Despite the challenges of a pandemic, educators across America and especially here in Emanuel are working hard to ensure every student has the tools needed to reach his or her fullest potential.

The Crossroads Chronicle reached out to school and system leaders across the county to obtain information and perspectives about the efforts of local teachers and what celebrations will take place as Teacher Appreciation Week is observed over the next few days. According to Emanuel County Schools’ Superintendent, Dr. Kevin A. Judy, each school within the public system, along with its PTO, plan individual celebrations for its teachers and staff, so the plans in place vary across the board. However, one thing remains constant, according to the school district’s leader: commitment and selflessness.

“Our teachers and entire school staff have done a phenomenal job this year supporting our students, families, and each other,” Dr. Judy said. “Oftentimes we find in our life that it is more about helping others than focusing on ourselves, and this year our school district has done that. I am proud of the dedication that our staff has shown throughout this school year. Our students have lived through adversity, and our faculty and staff have shown them how to persevere and make it through.”

The Chronicle also sent out an email to all Emanuel County Board of Education members on Friday, April 30, calling for each leader’s take on Teacher Appreciation Week as it relates to the contributions of local educators. Two members, Del Brown and John Allen Bailey, responded.

Brown said, “First, I would say that we have some of the best teachers anywhere in the country! They give of themselves daily to ensure our kids in our county are taken care of, educated, loved, and given the best opportunity to achieve. The pandemic certainly has tested many, and our teachers have gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure our students received everything they needed daily to learn. Whether face-to-face or virtual, Emanuel County teachers stepped up and delivered. There are so many thanks to be given to all our teachers, and I personally want to say, ‘Thank you!’ from the bottom of my heart.”

Bailey, in his response, said, “I fully believe we have the best teachers in the state right here in Emanuel County. They have responded to the major obstacles we have encountered this year without moaning and groaning like many other systems I have heard about. The Emanuel County Schools teachers are dedicated to their students and put them first. I am truly blessed to be able to be a board member for this outstanding group of people.”

The Chronicle sent an email to area principals on Friday as well, asking for their input for this article. The following responses are what each principal wanted to say publicly about their respective school’s teachers.

Maria Daniels of Emanuel County Pre-K said, “The teachers at the Early Learning Center in Swainsboro really work hard to lay a foundation that other teachers can build upon. We are the first ones to ease the transition into the learning environment and soothe those nervous fears. Swainsboro Pre-K and Early Head Start teachers and faculty take pride in what they do, and they’re always ready and willing to do what it takes to make sure the children come first. Even during uncertain times and facing COVID-19, our teachers’ thoughts were of our students and how this would affect them. When it came time to return to school, our teachers went to work to ensure that pre-K and EHS would provide a safe and inviting learning center. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to every faculty and staff member at pre-K and EHS. Thank you for always going above and beyond to get the job done!”

Principal Valorie Watkins of Swainsboro Elementary called her staff “heroes,” honoring teachers’ and staff’s willingness to do all they could for the safety of others since Day 1 of the pandemic. “Everyone took on the challenge of this year with a positive attitude. The staff has made some sacrifices that have really brought us closer together; we all had to set up. I am proud and privileged to work alongside such an awesome family of educators,” she said. Watkins continued, “Our staff has been so flexible and open to doing things differently during this school year. They have been willing to cover classes at a moment’s notice. They’ve disinfected classrooms, wiped door handles, and kept students safe in the learning environment by making sure students were socially distanced as much as possible. Our teachers at SES have worked diligently to become familiar with the many facets of technology as well. Teachers have created lessons on Google Classroom and created work packets to help students catch up. They’ve scheduled Zoom meetings with parents and students modeling how to complete an assignment or lesson. They’ve also donated supplies for their classroom in order for students to have individualized classroom supplies since students weren’t able to share this year. All in all, our teachers have embraced the many changes with a smile and a positive outlook.”

Swainsboro Middle School Dr. Willie Gibson called his group a hard-working, dedicated one. “The teachers here at SMS, they’ve faced a lot of challenges this year due to COVID, and they’ve met those challenges with resilience and integrity. Our teachers have gone above and beyond to ensure our students have obtained the best we have to offer. At the beginning of the school year, I asked them to be flexible—and they met the request head-on. I am so proud of the teachers and staff here at Swainsboro Middle School. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!”

Dr. Denise Warnock of Swainsboro High School echoed similar statements. She commented, “Our teachers and other educators have demonstrated the significance of their role in our community, given recent challenges. As these past 14 months have shown, teachers make significant contributions that ensure our students’ well-being by providing academic, social, and emotional learning support. The onset of the pandemic was overnight, and our teachers quickly rallied to convert our face-to-face environment to a hybrid model with both face-to-face and online instruction options. These fabulous educators are to be applauded for the extra effort they put forth to create appropriate technology-based learning.”

Robbie Warnock, principal of Twin City Elementary, said his staff is working hard as well. As an administrator, Warnock has been working with his staff gradually to achieve a specific goal: to turn the concept of the “school house,” the building TCE reports to for a few hours each day, into a “school home.” Those efforts have been underlined by Twin City Elementary’s teachers since the pandemic started as teachers have gone out of their way to make each classroom an extension of themselves, their content areas, and the representation of the virtues which called them to the profession in the first place. Warnock said, “The pandemic is continuing to have an impact on education. Our teachers have so much content to cover over the course of a regular school year, and when you factor in closures and quarantines, students on all ability levels have gaps in their knowledge. The TCE rockstars have jumped on the challenge! They work tirelessly to make up the lost time while continuing to scaffold into new content as well. Have you seen the bulls running down the streets in Spain? That is how the front doors at TCE look every morning starting at 6:30 as our teachers charge in to get the day started. Another good indicator about their classrooms is when a student cries because he is being signed out early and wants to stay in class the rest of the day; that has happened twice here in the last month. Our teachers give a lot of themselves to their jobs, so let’s give them some praise and applause for all their contributions.”

Anetria Edenfield, principal of Emanuel County Institute, responded to The Chronicle’s email on Tuesday with the following statement: “I would like to express my appreciation for all the teachers of Emanuel County Institute. You give unselfishly on a daily basis. Your plate is always full, but you never waver from the path of teaching and educating the whole student. This year has been trying and has tested your resiliency, but you, a true inspiration, have stayed the course. For that, I am truly grateful. The impact you make on a child’s blackboard of life can never be erased!”

There remains one school in the area not in the public system but within the bounds of Emanuel with great teachers to boot, thus qualifying it for inclusion in this story. Haylee Free, headmaster of David Emanuel Academy in Stillmore, said in an email to The Chronicle on Friday, “We at DEA have had a blessed year. Going into the current school year, we had no idea what to expect, but after careful consideration, a COVID protocol was put in place to help migrate through a year of unknowns. Our staff is just simply amazing! Their hard work in assisting with keeping classrooms sanitized and the extra time and effort put into distance learning have been the sole reason DEA has continued through this pandemic. The children of DEA have continued with face-to-face learning, ensuring no gaps in their educational journey, and our children have been able to be children! Our teachers are the main components in the success of our school year. Their sacrifice of time during the regular school day and into the hours of the evening, combined with the added responsibility in assisting and sanitizing rooms and supplies, have helped us have a year filled with fun and memories. To honor the sacrifices of our teachers, our parents are planning special surprises each day of Teacher Appreciation Week. At DEA, we appreciate our teachers and the joy they bring in doing their job each and every day. We have a great village of faculty and staff at David Emanuel Academy. My heart bursts with gratitude to these ladies and gentlemen that make DEA the gem of Stillmore that it is.”

If you’re looking for some simple ways to celebrate your child’s teacher (or maybe you don’t have a child in school right now but would like to celebrate our community’s teachers anyway), here are a few ideas: write and mail a letter; find, print, fill out, and submit an appreciation printout; send a gift card; send an e-card; or give a shoutout to your favorite teachers online using this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week hashtag, #ThankATeacher.

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