By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
On Monday, April 2, The Chamber of Gadsden/Etowah County held its first Excellence in Education Awards Luncheon at 210 on the Tracks. The event recognized teachers and programs in Etowah County that promote education in new and exciting ways.
“I think you will all agree with me in saying that these educators are doing work that is critical to the success of our community,” said The Chamber Board of Directors Chairwoman Tena King. “Today we are here to recognize teachers, administrators, support staff and even those outside the education systems who are going above and beyond for the success of children and for the future of our community.”
The program kicked off by recognizing all of the teachers of the year. The overall teachers of the year from each school system were presented with awards. The winners were: Attalla City Schools elementary teacher – Ryan Carter from Etowah Middle School; Attalla City Schools secondary teacher – Chris Davis from Etowah High School; Etowah County elementary teacher – Donna Holderfield from John Jones Elementary School; Etowah County secondary teacher – Destiny Smith of Sardis High School; Gadsden City elementary teacher – Alison Correll of Walnut Park Elementary School; Gadsden City secondary teacher – Cody Carlton of Gadsden City High School; Elementary Etowah County private school teacher – Malory Parkoo from Episcopal Day School; and secondary Etowah County private school teacher – Brian Mintz of Westbrook Christian School.
After the Teacher of the Year awards, King announced the winners of the Excellence in Education Awards. K-12 award-winning teachers received free registration to Jacksonville State University’s Collaborative Regional Education conference.
“These award winners were nominated, completed an application, and were then organized into categories and reviewed by our committee members,” said King. “We had a lot of excellent nominations to choose from, and we hope that hearing these stories will inspire other educators in the county to submit their own nominations next year.”
The Excellence in Early Education winner was the KinderCamp program from United Way’s Success by Six. In 2014, KinderCamp started as a practice day to help children transitioning to kindergarten classes ease into school settings.
The Excellence in Life Skills Education winner was Family Savings Credit Union’s Money Island program. Money Island teaches “the importance of saving, investing, giving and spending money wisely” in a fun online game.
The Excellence in Science Education winner was the Gadsden State Community College Water Festival led by Dr. Hugh Hammer. Now in its 17th year, the program teaches about the importance of clean water. Over 20,000 fourth grade students in Etowah County have attended the Water Festival.
The Excellence in Creative Technology winner was West End Elementary teacher Shanna Thompson, who pursued grants to fund 3D pens which she incorporated into her fourth-grade class’s lessons.
The Excellence in Fine Arts Education winner was Mario Gallardo. As the chair of the fine arts department and the Executive Director of the Walnut Gallery, Gallardo has worked to expand access to the arts in Etowah County.
The Excellence in Library and Information Science winner was John Jones Elementary librarian and media specialist Lisa Richards who developed a “Maker Space” in the library for children to participate in STEM activities each month.
The Excellence in Special Education winner was The Center for Autism Studies at Jacksonville State, which trains educators. The center hosts an autism conference that is now in its sixth year.
The Gadsden State Excellence in Career Tech (K-12) winner was Etowah County Career Technical Center, which offers a program the simulates being in the workplace.
The Excellence in Career Tech Post-Secondary winner was the Gadsden State carpentry program led by Heath McDaniel. The program offers students live work experience while they volunteer for local non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity
The Excellence in After School Programming winner was Mitchell Elementary School’s The Edge After School. Students are introduced to STEM activities such as robotics and engineering and literature and art through partnerships with the local library and museums. The program also partners with Quality of Life to teach life skills.
The Jacksonville State University Excellence in Innovative Learning K-12 winner was the Beautiful Rainbow Café, located inside the Gadsden Public Library. Program director Chip Rowan uses the vegetarian café to teach special needs students culinary skills. The café provided desserts for the luncheon.
The Excellence in Innovative Learning Post-Secondary winner was Gadsden State Connects, which partners with Gadsden State’s Public Relations and Marking Department to select students from each department to produce content for social media and the provide news for other students.
The Excellence in Student Empowerment winner was the Boys and Girls Club’s SMART Girls program, a program to help teen girls ease into the transition from middle school to a larger high school.
The Excellence in Educational Advancement winner was JSU’s Center for Collaborative Regional Education (CORE). The program supports educators and aims to provide the tools to keep students engaged.
The Honda Manufacturing of Alabama Excellence in Community Collaboration winner was the Gadsden Public Library’s Guys Read program, which aims to inspire fourth grade boys that reading is cool by having volunteers visit the schools to share age appropriate and interesting books.
The Gadsden City Schools Excellence in Leadership winner was Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Miller for promoting partnerships and a wide variety of options for student programs.
The last four awards recognized “teachers and organizations who go above and beyond their call of duty and have displayed great care for the students of our community.”
The Alabama Teachers Credit Union Heart of an Educator K-12 winner was Glencoe High School’s Meredith Barkley. Barkley hosts “Failure Friday” activities to demonstrate the importance of learning from failure.
The Heart of an Educator Post-Secondary winner was Gadsden State’s Jesse Osburn. As a math teacher, Osburn goes above and beyond to give each student the tools they need to understand the material, even giving his students individual instruction.
The TeamOne Chevrolet Heart of the Community Individual Award winner was Nancy Smith, who created the Backpack Blessings program to provide weekend meals for students in need. She has expanded the program to include Sneakers for Students, providing shoes for those who need them.
The Heart of the Community Organization Award winner was the Gadsden Rotary. Rotary has started several school programs including the GCHS Interact Club and an Anti-Bullying Rally for local middle schools. The club has also purchased dictionaries for local third graders.
The Chamber thanked its many sponsors for making the first Excellence in Education Awards Luncheon a success. Attendees enjoyed lunch from Local Joe’s and desserts from the Beautiful Rainbow Cafe.