LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Annually, the London-Laurel County Chamber of Commerce awards three outstanding teachers — one from elementary, middle, and high school levels — as “Teachers of the Year.”
Students, parents, fellow teachers and the community at large are allowed to vote via nomination form. Once forms are returned, a Chamber of Commerce selection committee reviews the nominations, selects the top 20 nominees, and talks with school principals for the final selection process. The award is presented to new nominees each year at the organization’s annual banquet.
The Teacher of the Year award is sponsored by Cumberland Healthcare Systems and each teacher is presented with a plaque and a $1,000 cash prize for their personal use.
This year’s winners were recognized at the Chamber banquet on March 5. They were: Connie Shepherd from Wyan-Pine Grove Elementary School; Joey McKnight from North Laurel Middle School; and Chasity “Bo” White from South Laurel High School.
Shepherd teaches empathy, respect as well as reading and writing
By Carrie Dillard
Connie Shepherd, a teacher at Wyan-Pine Grove Elementary School, said, sometimes, teaching students how to act in social situations is just as important as classroom instruction, especially in this age group.
“In the real world, you have to be able to communicate,” she said. “I try to teach them to get along with their peers, to be fair to each other and kind to each other."
Shepherd teaches fifth-grade reading and writing. One of the most important lessons in the fifth grade, she said, is responsibility. As students prepare to switch classes full-time in the sixth grade, she believes it is necessary to teach students to be independent.
Shepherd said she has very little discipline problems in her classroom. She practices mutual respect – giving respect to students and getting it back in return.
“There are very few rules in my classroom. I say, ‘Within these walls, you are respected, safe, and you will learn.’ I never want a child in my classroom to be scared or afraid (to ask for help).
“I care about their education. If they do their best, that’s all I ask.”
Shepherd has spent the last six years of her 28-year teaching career at Wyan-Pine Grove. She previously taught at Pittsburg Elementary, Hazel Green and Cold Hill elementary schools.
Shepherd earned her degree in elementary education from Eastern Kentucky University.
She has served as past PTO president at Wyan-Pine and volunteers at many after-school functions including sock hops, car shows and basketball games.
“I feel that it’s part of my job,” she said. “Teaching is not just in the classroom. It’s being a role model, just like being a parent.”
She and her husband, Alan, have three children. Their daughter, Jessica Jackson, is a teacher at Johnson Elementary; their daughter, Heather Williams, is in the nursing program at Eastern Kentucky University; and their son, Jacob Hensley, is in pre-law at the University of Kentucky.
The couple has been married for more than 20 years.
She loves to spend time as a family 4-wheeling, camping and swimming at the lake.
"Our children are our pride and joy. We all get together for family dinner every Sunday."
When students see her in everyday clothes, working concessions or selling tickets at the door of a ballgame, Shepherd said they begin to see her as “a regular person.” This goes for parents just as well.
“It’s a good time to fellowship with parents," she said. "The most precious thing to a parent is their child. When you get involved (outside of the classroom), and parents see you involved, they know we love their children. It lets them know you have their child's best interest at heart.”
When Shepherd got the call that she had been chosen as Teacher of the Year, she was shocked.
“I was so proud. It's a wonderful honor.”
Shepherd said she has "some of the best kids" this year.
“The Lord blesses me every day.”
McKnight teaches science with songs
By Carol Mills
Joey McKnight, science teacher at North Laurel Middle School, was one of three individuals chosen by the London-Laurel County Chamber of Commerce from several nominations as a 2013 Teacher of the Year.
Annually, the Chamber chooses one teacher from the elementary, middle, and high school level to receive the awards, which were presented at the Chamber banquet on March 5 by Kathryn Hardman, director of Laurel County Adult Education and Literacy. Each teacher received a check for $1,000 from Cumberland Health Care.
McKnight, who is only in his second year at the school, is not a typical sixth-grade teacher.
According to Hardman, McKnight motivates children on the field and in the classroom. Several students commented on his creative use of music in teaching science, she said. His fellow teachers are motivated by his energy, and nearly all who nominated him commented on his ability to communicate well will faculty and parents, Hardman added.
“This is a big honor for me,” said Joey McKnight, “especially in my second year of teaching. I love where I work and doing my job. I think the most important thing is to show the kids that you really care about them.”
One parent said in her nomination for McKnight that he makes science fun for his child. “He has inspired my son to want to discover more about science on his own.”
Another parent said he has made this very important subject fun for his child. His son is interested in science and is always asking questions and wants to learn more about science and how things work.
A student of his said he helps make science fun. “He lets us listen to a science song everyday.”
McKnight, 25, is a native of Laurel County. He graduated from NLHS in 2006 and from Eastern Kentucky University in 2010.
“I thought that becoming a teacher would be a perfect job for me,” he said. “I love kids. I want to be a good role model for them and try to have fun with them. Science was my favorite subject in school. You get to do a lot of experiments and hands-on things that kids get to enjoy.”
White is surrounded by ‘angels’
By Magen McCrarey
Chasity “Bo” White, special education teacher at South Laurel High School, was one of three individuals nominated by the London-Laurel County Chamber of Commerce as a 2013 Teacher of the Year.
Annually, the Chamber of Commerce chooses one representative from the elementary, middle school and high school level to receive the award. The awards were presented at the Chamber banquet on March 5 by Kathryn Hardman, director of Laurel County Adult Education and Literacy.
White, who has taught for nine years, is not your typical teacher. She dreads Fridays because it is the end of the school week.
“I cannot wait until Mondays, and yes, I am a teacher,” White said.
She describes her students as 10 of the “most amazing angels” and they each have very unique gifts.
“You may have heard it called ‘special education’ from others,” she said.
South Laurel Principal David Cummins said he is very proud of White because of her dedication to her students. Cummins was White’s former math teacher. He said he recognized early on that she genuinely cared for others.
“Teaching is not just a job,” he said “It is a calling on one’s life.
“She truly answered her calling. She motivates her students to go beyond their expected levels of performance,” Cummins continued.
According to Hardman, White’s nominations for the award came largely from parents. White was described as “happy” and “outgoing.”
White was unable to attend the Chamber banquet. Accepting the award on her behalf were students, Jessica Bowman and Tanner Sibert. Both students serve as peer tutors in White’s classroom.
A nominator described White as, “a strong advocate for human rights. She gives a voice to disabled individuals to be included and accepted in to the world around them. She is an asset for the school system.”
Another stated that she “treats her students like they were her own.”
White is with her students from the time they turn 14 years old until they become 18 or even 21. There’s never been a moment she’s not been confident in her passion for teaching. Her mother has even joked that she came out of the womb wanting to teach, she said.
“I was always the teacher’s helper and always took care of everyone,” White added.
White graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in teaching moderate to severe disabilities K-13. The 34-year-old said she has an amazing adventure ahead of herself.
“I feel that my age has nothing to do with my teaching strategies, as everything we all do in life revolves around dedication. If you are not dedicated to what you do, then you are not able to do it to your best ability,” she said, “My angels are what make me who I am. They teach me something new everyday that I am with them.”
“I believe with all my heart that God has me exactly where he wants me and for that I thank Him everyday.”