It’s no secret that readers are leaders. This week, we’re bringing you some of our community’s best readers and leaders, our extraordinary educators, Mary Nifong and Shindiana Harris. These two women work tirelessly to spread a love of reading and a passion for learning. Their own love of the written word has greatly impacted the way they lead their classrooms. Read on to find out how Mary and Shindiana inspire learning in their High Point students.
“I would like to pass on to my students the wisdom of Winnie the Pooh as written by A. A. Milne. ‘Always remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think.’”
As the K-5 librarian at Kirkman Park Spanish Immersion Elementary School, Mary Nifong has a uniquely special love of reading. She was nominated by her principal, Dr. Jamal Crawford, who applauds Mary for “transforming the Kirkman Park library and burgeoning makerspace area with a $23K grant from the High Point Community Foundation.” A makerspace is an area where people can gather to make and create – sharing supplies, skills and ideas.
A life-long instructor, Mary has spent three decades teaching and says she couldn’t even begin to choose her most memorable moment.
“I do remember the relationships I’ve had with students who repeatedly came to our library for information, for entertainment, and sometimes for refuge,” she says. “I’ve always tried to be a constant in their lives, earning their trust and treating them with respect.”
Mary says over the years, her teaching style has been influenced by her very own extraordinary educators, ones that she has had the pleasure of learning from and teaching alongside.
“Good teachers must demonstrate a passion for what they do, a curiosity for knowledge that, in turn, inspires their students, and an enduring sense of humor,” Mary says. At Kirkman Park, Mary often sees this kind of teaching, as staff and administrators work to educate and nurture the wide variety of students’ needs.
“I love my job because every day I get to make connections that positively impact the education of our students,” she explains. “I connect students, teachers, and our families to literature, information, and digital resources. I love seeing a student excited by a discovery, whether it’s a new book by a favorite author or learning how to write lines of code.”
When she’s not helping students locate their next favorite book, Mary might be reading her own favorite title, Wishtree by Katherine Applegate.
“It’s a magical book for families, with a message that is powerful and relevant for our times,” Mary says.
Check out Mary’s Amazon Wishlist!
“I tell my scholars not to compare themselves to anyone else. We are created to be just who we are. In class and in life as long as you are doing your personal best, that’s all I can ask for. Set short-term and long-term goals for yourself. If you falter striving to attain those goals, don’t beat yourself up. Tomorrow is a new day, get up and start over.”
Our next extraordinary educator, Shindiana Harris, is a third-grade teacher at Montlieu Academy of Technology. As teacher of the year, Shindiana was nominated by her principal, Kimberly Scott.
“Each day I walk into our building, I get excited by the fact that I will be able to reach and touch little minds,” says Shindiana. “I start each day with the mindset that today is a new day, to learn new things, and do our personal best to be the best scholars we can be.”
At Montlieu, Shindiana says that the teachers focus on educating the whole child, starting first from a foundation of relationship building. It’s from this foundation that Shindiana found herself working through one especially memorable teaching moment with an English as a Second Language learning student.
“This student came into my class knowing very little phonetically and not being able to read very many words,” Shindiana recalls. “She worked very hard in small groups and had an excitement to want to learn. By the end of the year she was an emergent reader.” Seeing this student work to read independently at her reading level, despite coming into the classroom with very limited English skills reminded Shindiana that every student can work hard and grow, regardless of the challenges life places in their path.
Shindiana also attributes some of her educational inspiration to reading impact teacher, Laura Jones.
“She reignited a fire and passion in me for teaching literacy,” Shindiana says. “Working with her, my teaching style totally transformed this year. Teaching is somewhat like acting. You’re on a stage. You’re an entertainer. The delivery of my lessons may change from day to day. In class, I have to be enthusiastic, expressive, persuasive, flexible, and stimulating. I want my scholars to be engaged and active participants.”
As for her own love of reading, Shindiana names Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as her all-time favorite book. Having read this for the first time in middle school, Shindiana remembers feeling captivated by the story.
“To read Anne’s real-life recollections of the situations and traumas that she and her family endured touched something deep within me,” Shindiana remembers. “This book pushed me to do my own research about the Holocaust, German occupation during WWII, and the things the victims endured. This book really touched me in unexplainable ways.”
Check out Shindiana’s Amazon Wishlist!
We’re thankful for teachers in our community like Mary and Shindiana. They work steadfastly to show our students what lies beyond their classroom walls, buried deep within pages of books. They make our community better by opening our students’ minds to the wide world around us.
Discovering our High Points,
Photography by Maria West Photography